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back to article Plastic screen outfit teams with Epson to offer screen on your plastic

Plastic Logic, the failed ereader company which nearly went bust trying to prove one could print electronic components onto plastic, is targeting diminutive displays with a new driver from Epson as it continues spending Russian cash. The new screens, and driver chip, will be demonstrated at trade fair Electronica 2012 from …

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Facepalm

Popular with consumers? Yes

Popular with credit card companies? God no.

Having your balance on a credit card is like having "smoking kills" on a fag packet - It's a constant reminder that you probably shouldn't buy what you're looking at. The whole appeal of a credit card (IMO) is that you don't have to "worry" about paying at the same time that you're impulse buying - you delay thinking about payment until it becomes just another bill to pay. Whilst most of us can control out habits, for big spenders I can see this as having a prophylactic effect on purchasing - great for the consumer, bad for the card issuer.

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Re: Popular with consumers? Yes

I'm sure you're right about the 'user experience' with a credit card but we can consider other forms of personal card that might benefit from similar psychology.

Consider supermarket or shop chain loyalty/points cards. If the shopper had a card with a displayed balance that increased after every shopping experience, that would make them feel good about having just spent money. (Yes, I know it's pathetic but many people are like that and they look forward to using their points to buy Christmas gifts, etc. I can cite most of my family as examples.)

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Re: Popular with consumers? Yes

Don't show the balance. Show how much credit limit you have left. It will get some people to spend up to their credit limit.

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Unhappy

Plastic logic. I smell management fail

Backed up by the inherently slow speed of the transistors.

Maybe they'll do better with flexible displays.

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FAIL

Credit and bank cards?

Hell, no. Advertising to all who manage to get a peek at them what your balance is?

The infamous Dutch OV-Chipcard, OTOH, could well use this feature, showing whether you've actually checked in or out, and on what travel 'product' you're travelling at the moment*). Balance again? No thanks.

*) apart from the overall fail that it is, there's a specific fail when you transfer from, say, bus or tram (traveling on card balance) to train (traveling on subscription). You have to check out when leaving the bus, and check in when boarding the train, but if that's within 3 minutes the system considers this changeover to be 'continue using the previous travel product', which means it's NOT using the subscription. A travel mode display would show whether it's using the intended product or not.

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Brilliant idea

Now I can put my PIN on my card so I never forget it!

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Anonymous Coward

Pretty much what you'd need...

... if we're going to be forced to pay electronically everywhere.

Now for electronic payment cards that are actually anonymous and where the credit can be freely swapped, taken out as cash, as well as put in. Being able to see what the card in your hand is worth is but the beginning.

The problems with the current crop of non-cash payment "solutions" is that they're ment to lock you in, entice you to spend spend spend, and track your every move. Not to mention the often Goldberg-esque ways you're supposed to use them. In short, they're productionizing you, not serving you.

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Re: Pretty much what you'd need...

Does it? How do you (and the other party) know the amount displayed is the actual amount available on the card? And cards like you propose will need POS equipment just like the current bank cards and debet/credit cards, equipment that has to be certified and maintained.

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Anonymous Coward

I ain't proposin' nuttin', guv.

You're missing the "... if ..." bit right at the start.

How it'd all work? What do I care? I'm not the one forcing me to pay electronically.

I'd much rather have cash. But if I can't have that, I'll at least want to have the replacement(s) some of the useful properties of cash. Useful to me, that is, not to the string of middlefirms that're pushing for all this just so they can have a piece of the payment pie, ie my hard-earned. To me, cash is cheaper. To them, ah, why do you think you're forced to pay electronically whenever they think they can get away with forcing you?

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Re: I ain't proposin' nuttin', guv.

OK, but I can't see a system you're envisioning working without POS hardware at the cash register, because maybe if you even simply hand over the entire card to the merchant, as a sort of variable-denomination banknote, he'll want to hand you back a card with the amount of change for that purchase. And as a pile of pre-loaded cards tends to be somewhat impractical, he'll just want to set the value on that card there and then. Which means POS equipment, which means an organisation certifying, installing and maintaining them, and probably even running the bits to link this system to conventional banking. And I doubt this organisation will do so entirely for free.

There is a system here called the Chipknip, launched a decade ago or so and meant as a small cash payments substitute. You load some amount onto the chip on your bank card (from your account), then proceed to pay by sticking the card into the POS payment terminal, then choosing the Chipknip option, get shown the amount, press OK, amount gets deducted from the value on the card. No communication, no PIN verification. It's all but dead now, I think the only use I'd have is is here in the company cafeteria (which I don't use).

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Anonymous Coward

Still missing the point

Such infrastructure will happen if there's money in it. There's chip&pin infrastructure and plenty of those, depending on locality, are getting "upgraded" to support this "wave your card like you just don't care" thing.

Just why that chipknip/chipper thing failed in the market is an interesting question. Probably because it didn't provide what people wanted, or at least not better than the methods they had already. I wouldn't be surprise if the wireless variant of same goes the same way. Of course, there's much bigger pressure from the chip makers to make it happen this time 'round. That vaunted momentum Bill assures us is there is, as far as I can see, coming entirely from manufacturers with something to sell and middlemen salivating for a cut of the pie. There's very little extra value being added here.

All I'm saying is that if we're going there anyway, then the people that're making it happen ought to be made to listen to the people expected to use all that, too. This is in fact a perfect place for legislation to step in should the market fail to provide anonymous electronic payments--provided the legislators are made to see the use of that over the predictable objections of law enforcement that've become so mentally lazy they're positively claiming they cannot solve any crime any longer without being allowed to track everyone's every move, and store all that in perpetuity. But I digress.

The display gimmick could be sold as exactly that, a gimmick, and so could happen given enough demand. No need to worry about extra infrastructure if the existing will support the same thing it already supports except now with a bit of display attached. There's still a chip in the card that could have display driving functionality added, you know.

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Supermarket shelves

Just back from South Africa where a couple of a the big supermarket chains have now equipped their stores with LCD price tags on the shelf edges instead of good old printed paper tags. Not sure whether they are updated wirelessly at a distance or by a person running around the store with a handheld programmer. I thought it was a bit of an overengineered solution but they must have found some benefit to warrant rolling it out. This plastic display and/or e-ink solutions I would have thought a better technology, not least because they would be easier to read than the blue-on-transreflective-LCD. You're also looking at tens of thousands of units per large supermarket, which could provide economies of scale quite early on.

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Re: Supermarket shelves

If it's similar to the products I've worked with, the device power and data comms run through a convenient track rail on the edge of the shelf. LCD displays need continuous power anyway, so may as well shove data along at the same time and there are plenty of off the shelf protocol implementations for single wire comms involving multiple devices on a single data bus. The smarter ones even have full two way comms so the target device can acknowledge receipt and operation of the data received and a heartbeat function is usually implemented as well. Both of these should be almost required for remote price display functions in a supermarket.

A plastic display or e-ink display could bring the price down and produce a more legible display for the end user - i.e. a wide range of eyesight toting shoppers.

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Re: Supermarket shelves

The ones I've seen are self-contained, running off a CR20xx, and being set by a laptop-attached widget.

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Re: Supermarket shelves

"I thought it was a bit of an overengineered solution but they must have found some benefit to warrant rolling it out."

The "nice" thing about these is that you can adjust your prices on the fly then, basically liquid supply&demand optimization. Some people are thinking this is a great idea.

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Half way there

The other half is putting the key pad on the card. With the current system, a display you have no reason to trust tells you who will be paid and how much. You give your account details to a reader that might log them and type your pin on a key pad that could have a key logger attached. Whoever came up with that clearly put some thought into removing as much security as possible.

I would love to see a card that shows who is getting paid and how much on a screen I can trust. Even better, add a keypad so I can be confident that no key logger will be sending my PIN to India. If they really want to go overboard, add an off switch so the card does not spew my ID to every RF-ID reader in a shopping centre.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: a screen I can trust

Moving the display and keypad wouldn't stop these attacks, but just change their nature a little.

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Reasons for failure

I'm not sure how much the failure of the original company was down to a lack of interest in large screens, and how much was down to spending far too long polishing the damn things and not getting them out the door. Every time they surfaced, they seemed to be adding yet another high end feature to the device (to justify the cost of the tech?), rather than just getting an e-reader in the shops.

It was fairly clear to anyone paying attention to the business that e-readers would not be high end devices, and that there would be a 'race to the bottom' that was only being delayed by the strangle-hold that the handful of e-ink manufacturers had (have) on supply. On the surface Plastic Logic's technology would have been a good fit - surely it's cheaper if you can print the majority of your device?

There is probably still some room in the market for a larger screen, keeping pretty much the same physical format as existing readers but reducing the bezel. Regardless, a product on the shelf sells much better than one only demonstrated to journalists. Their failure was in not delivering.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't know about plastic logic but I do know a bit about irex

I own an illiad and I'm sorry to say its software is complete and utter crap. As is the user interface. The basic things are really only basic and are not at all written with overcoming the limitations of the hardware in mind.

For example, rendering a PDF page takes a good few seconds. So I skip to the next page, and I have to wait. I skip back, I have to wait again. Well more than the delay the screen imposes. Despite the thing having enough memory to cache the last few rendered pages, it just doesn't. Neither does it pre-render in some low-powered fashion the next page while I'm reading this page, and yet its battery life is measured in hours, not page-turns.

There are a number of other things like that where they dropped the ball, including the hardware. Like how the screen developed a dead line three weeks after I'd bought it (second-hand for a third of list or so, still too much), by which time they'd already gone bust. There still were support sites up, but after they'd made you register and login, they took your complaint then just pointed to other sites and never ever answered. Now it's not entirely surpising they weren't providing support after going bust, but they didn't clean up after themselves either. They raised expectations and didn't live up to them. And apparently when they weren't bust yet they had to replace a lot of broken displays under warranty, as (I found out too late) it is a common problem. The entire thing has a fairly amateurish smell to it, for an unjustifyably high price tag.

Maybe they thought that branding the thing "enterprise" would be enough to gloss over the deficiencies, and they bet pretty heavily on electronic delivery deals as they did with a national "quality" (and struggling) broadsheet. Not the most solid of moves, judging by the results.

As I said I don't know about plastic logic except that I really didn't see their devices next to the various other e-ink e-reader brands that you also don't see much of these days. It's a pity, really, because I fully agree the technology is neat and probably a good fit, but, well, it's now thoroughly out-shined by tablets. So much more's the pity.

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Thumb Up

And I'd love to see...

A HDD drive with e-ink display telling me how much room there is left. Saves me from having to run it just to see how much free space is available. Never seen this on a USB mem stick... cool though!

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Stop

Re: And I'd love to see...

You can file that under "Ain't gonna happen". Knowing how much space is available requires things like filesystem awareness.

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Holmes

Re: And I'd love to see...

Then just let the host update the display when the device is being dismounted. Could get messy with multiple partitions, though, especially if you're not using all of them from the same OS, but for the more general case of having a single large partition on an external drive it should work OK.

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Re: And I'd love to see...

@A J Stiles: The Lexar Jumpdrive Mercury, which includes an e-ink based capacity gauge, was introduced at CES 2006. Calculating free space within a filesystem is a complicated matter but the overall drive usage is trivial given that the flash controller already maintains an allocation table used for garbage collection, the number of unallocated pages is a "good enough" indicator of free space.

@Stoneshop: That would just add complexity, besides, all the host sees with a modern drive is a big block device, only the controller/firmware really knows what the capacity, usage and other layout details of a drive really are.

BTW In the case of hard drives I think it's a rather odd idea, either the drive is connected to a host which lets you see the free space or it's not currently in use in which case its capacity is surely more important than its free space.

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Anonymous Coward

Seems problematic

The balance wouldn't know about or update based on on-line purchases or recurring payments - so it would be quite easy for it to become inaccurate?

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Re: Seems problematic

Provded you want it (I most definitely don't) it could retrieve your account balance every time you use one of $YOURBANK's cash dispensers; it could even be a function separate from pulling coloured bits of paper from the thing, just like them having an option to show your balance on screen.

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Anonymous Coward

If we're going there...

... we'll just have to solve it somehow. Encrypted pager-like transmissions with everybody's bank balances, for example.

But why would you? One of the things that make chip&pin dangerous for the card holder is that it exposes the entire bank balance every time you use the card. Overlook an extra digit in the terminal and poof, there you go. It's also part of what makes skimming so lucrative.

The problem with various cash replacements are equally varied, but among them notably that they're one-way streets for your hard-earned: You can't just put cash in and then take it out again. Often you have to go through your banking account to put credit in, creating paper trail, and to take out, well, you basically only can purchase something, not just convert it back to cash. Some systems (eg the Dutch PT card with its many many broken promises) even only let you take credit out by sending it to your (and only your) bank account and taking a hefty penalty fee, paper(!) forms and a multi-week wait to discourage the practice.

But if you make the card a simple electronic credit holder thing instead of a(n irreplacable!) token proxing for something else again, you can easily count everything that goes in and everything that goes out. And then you could just show it on a display built into the card. Easily.

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Unhappy

OMG. They had *video* on eInk displays at 12fps.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEf-71r_Czc&feature=plcp

That *would* have been good enough for me. I'd accept the shortened battery life for *occasional* video clips and animation.

This suggests there was *nothing* wrong with the technology but a definite management fail.

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