Mary Lou Jepsen is the designer of the remarkable display screen of the OLPC (One laptop per child). I have walked with an OLPC from the interior of a house into a sunny yard, and the experience is remarkable. The LCD (liquid-crystal display) image of the laptop is transformed from a full-color transmissive display while indoors into a black-and-white reflective display while outdoors in sunlight. In a new short interview appearing in Technology Review the innovator Jepsen is asked about the San Francisco startup company she co-founded earlier this year called Pixel Qi (pronounced “Pixel Chee”).

Jepsen says that displays from Pixel Qi will be on the market next year. When asked to provide details about new products she replied, “We can’t announce our customers or products yet, but you’ll see these displays in low-power laptops.” When asked to look ahead two years she suggested that her company is aiming directly at the e-book market:

I see an improvement in the readability of screens. The number-one reason why people print a page is resolution, and the number-two reason is that they don’t want to stare into a flashlight. Ultimately, in a year or two, we’d like to have a lawyer’s monitor or an editor’s monitor–some readable screen that’s just for reading. When I started meeting kids in the developing world and seeing that their schools were outside, we saw the opportunity to make screens more readable in sunlight. It’s ironic that the poorest kids in the world are getting the best screen technology through OLPC, but soon the rich people in the rest of the world are going to have access to it too.


  1. “You don’t want to stare into a flashlight.” Well, of course, it’s boring. But what she means is, light-emitting displays are something people don’t want to look at. I’ve heard this from other folks working on reflective displays like E-Ink, but I’ve never seen any medical or psychological evidence to support it. People love to look at TV, at fires. Until I see evidence, this is a myth.

  2. I think the proof will be in the pudding. In my opinion someone is going to have to come up with some pretty compelling e-paper, before the mainstream will make the switch. That will include reducing light-emitting displays, being able to view/read outside, being able to drop it, etc.

    I think the evidence is in the low adoption of electronic readers among the general public.

  3. “The number-one reason why people print a page is resolution, and the number-two reason is that they don’t want to stare into a flashlight.”

    The number one reason that people print is to grasp the content, the number two is to manipulate the navigation. These are subtle haptic prerequisites of primate neurology. So, in terms of bionic readers, the print document is actually a fulfillment of digital technologies. If you augment print access with screen based indexing and searching you could argue that the print document is the fulfillment.

  4. Another reason to print out a document: vast multiplication of screens at ridiculously cheap price.

    That is, I can print a book, and then lay pages 456, 120, 23, 78, and 384 alongside one another for comparison. That’s 5 full-resolution ‘screens’ all ‘online’ before me at once.

    I can easily double or triple that and still retain all 15 ‘screens’ in my field of vision, either lying on the floor or tacked on the wall.

    I do applaud Pixel Qi, and have only one word for them: Hurry up! With the global economy shrinking, very few people will be able to scrape up $400 for an ebook device. Get it under $100, with a bigger, higher-resolution screen than either the Sony Reader or Amazon Kindle now offer, and the whole ebook revolution becomes more feasible.

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