Esquire’s e-ink cover: The future blinks

Back at the turn, print publishers tried to persuade us the future was in electronic ink — a fusion of chemistry, physics and electronics that transformed the “printed” page into a constantly changing stream of updated news and information. Eight years and two Web revolutions later, e-ink has finally made its mass-media debut on the October cover of Esquire.

If you were expecting Minority Report (remember the scene where Tom Cruise’s character sees himself as an instant fugitive on USA Today’s updated-in-real-time e-ink front page?) you’ll be disappointed with Esquire’s electronic cover. The digital display, which flashes permutations of the message “The 21st Century Begins Now,” is only a little bigger than a credit card, and about as flexible.

Nearly a decade after the technology was heralded as the next big thing, the Esquire gimmick demonstrates that electronic ink doesn’t yet measure up to the hype. Rather, it reminds us more of National Geographic’s hologram cover back in 1984. Last we looked, holograms hadn’t revolutionized printing, nor have they provided the interactivity or immediacy that static, printed products so desperately require in the Internet era.

Still, it’s pretty easy to see the visible future. Cheap, disposable e-paper magazines on newsstands, each thin, flexible and disposable. Press a button to refresh the content. But that’s about five years away, just like it has been for the last decade.

Cheers nonetheless to Esquire’s parent company for a bold promotion. Hearst Corp., an investor at E Ink Corp., has has printed 100,000 copies of the special October issue, now available at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. Copies featuring the E Ink technology cost $2 more than the regular newsstand price of $3.99.

Here’s hoping we can expect more from the century that begins now.

You may also like