I feel like Steve Martin’s character in “The Jerk” — “The new Esquires are here! The new Esquires are here!”
Like a teenager buying Playboy “for the articles,” I wasn’t buying Esquire for their list of “the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.” (That’s a bit overblown, don’t you think? It’s not over yet. There are more people to be born…)
No, I was buying Esquire for its E-Ink cover. Well, actually, just part of the cover: 4.75″ x 2″, to be exact. The E-Ink inset flashes the message “The 21st Century Begins NOW.” (Apparently I’m eight years in the future. I’ll let you know how things turn out.)
If you’re expecting the moving newspaper images you’ve seen in the Harry Potter movies, we’re not there yet (John Q. Voter screaming soundlessly from the cover like Sirius Black would have been a nice touch). The animation is really a series of displayed graphics, rather than smooth video. The E-Ink technology is pretty nifty, though: it’s used in Amazon’s Kindle electronic book. It’s currently limited to black-&-white rendering, but Esquire got around that limitation by printing color areas on separate clear plastic pieces positioned over the insets. When the E-Ink substrate flashes on underneath, it lights up and gives the illusion of a color display. Click here to view a blurry QuickTime movie.
As you can imagine, producing the cover was expensive and complicated. Part of the cost was borne by Ford Motor Company, which uses a small E-Ink insert on the inside front cover to showcase the Ford Flex vehicle. The Ford insert looks full-color because of its overprinting 4-color image, but its animation is simpler than the cover: just a series of three flashes rotating across the image, illuminating about a third of the Flex photo at a time. Still, it’s cute.
The fun should last for 90 days, or until the little batteries embedded in the slightly thick covers pulse their last. I’ve read that they can be replaced with commonly-available thin batteries. I bought four copies: one to keep, two for friends, and one to dissect. I’d like to be able to prolong its life for future show-&-tell: “Kids! Stop watching your magazines for a minute, and come see how it started!”
BTW, GearLog details their dissection of the cover here.