Your Future Samsung Phone Might Use a Color E-Ink Screen

Samsung has purchased Liquavista, a color, electronic paper display company, which is now a fully-owned affiliate of Samsung Electronics. Liquavista displays are built using electrowetting technology: a process that uses electrical charges to move colored oil around in each screen pixel. The most likely use will be in Samsung’s e-book reading devices, but Liquivista’s technology, which uses 90 percent less power than traditional displays, could find its way into smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

Liquavista displays reduce power consumption much like the Pixel Qi screens currently found in the Notion Ink Adam tablet and Qualcomm’s promising Mirasol display technology (s qcom). Instead of the standard option of using a backlight to brighten the display, a Liquavista screen has three options: reflective, transmissive and transflective. Indoors, the screen can act just like a traditional LCD display while outdoors, natural light can be reflected through the pixels for clarity and brightness, without a backlight consuming any power. Transmissive is the typical backlit technology LCDs have used for years, while using natural, passive light for reflective displays is a more recent development. Transflective both reflects and transmits light as needed to save power while still displaying a high-quality image.

So Liquavista has both a power-efficient solution and is outdoor-friendly. But how can an e-Ink type of display be used on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets? The company says its electrowetting technology can refresh a screen up to 60 times per second, opening the door to the high frame rates needed for gaming, video consumption and other media activities on a handheld device. An early prototype Liquavista display was filmed by the BBC last year, and about halfway through the video, you can see a few examples of full-screen, color video playback.

Such frame-rates open the door for Samsung to incorporate Liquavista’s electrowetting technology into handsets, which could help boost battery life. Samsung currently uses its Super AMOLED technology in its Galaxy S line of smartphones, the Nexus S, and its two Windows Phone (s msft) 7 devices. Super AMOLED is also a power-efficient technology, but can’t leverage the outdoor properties of Liquavista’s screens, so future Samsung handsets could look just as good outside as they do indoors, if not better.

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