graphene-metal-hexagonsJust when you thought e-ink was old hat, a Chinese company says it has invented the next generation of electronic paper.

Guangzhou OED Technologies says it has developed a graphene-based e-paper technology. More flexible and stronger than traditional e-ink, graphene-based paper should also be considerably cheaper than the current e-ink tech, as it uses the common element carbon rather than the rare, expensive metal indium. Displays with the new tech supposedly could go into production in a year.

At the moment, Amazon’s cheapest Fire LCD tablets cost less than even the basic unlit e-ink Kindle, and that can probably be mostly attributed to the cost of the display. The display is usually the most expensive part of any visual device, be it TV, tablet, or e-reader. If this new graphene display can bring that price down, we might be on the cusp of the $20 or $30 e-reader. Or maybe even less. At that price, e-readers could be the next best thing to disposable, so people wouldn’t have to worry so much if they accidentally leave it on the bus or drop it in the tub.

The other welcome bit of news is that, since graphene conducts light better, it should also mean brighter displays. Perhaps if future Kindles adopt this technology, their contrast will improve to where there might be less need for an all-bold font. We can only hope.

Beside that, it’s almost not even worth mentioning that this should also mean accidental screen breakage of e-readers will become a thing of the past as well, and we might actually see functional, truly flexible e-readers for the first time. It sounds too good to be true, so it probably won’t hurt to be a little skeptical until we actually see working examples of this new wonder technology. Nonetheless, if it’s even half as good as they make it sound, it should still be a substantial improvement.

Yes, the e-book reader market is saturated. But if a technology is sufficiently cheaper and better, in areas such as contrast, the market will be there regardless of opinions to the contrary. The lower prices and higher quality will expand demand.

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