Yesterday, when Dutch electronics giant RoyalPhilips Electronics (NYSE:PHG) unveiled its new thin electronic displays, I was reminded of a story I wrote in 1999 about a company called At the time, Fatbrain's shares were zooming upward on news of an initiative called eMatter that, in short, promised downloadable books.

Back then, I was skeptical about the future of long-format electronic reading. Philips' announcement, however, bears notice because it really does look new and different. The company says it can make prototypes of "ultra-thin, large-area, rollable displays" routinely and is ready to move toward mass production. (The technology is being developed by a Philips division called Polymer Vision and a private company called E Ink.)

Philips is spinning tales of thin screens that could be rolled and stored without breakage or damage to the picture quality. They could conceivably help re-ignite interest in electronic reading and generate new revenue streams for content providers. In short, it's neat. The promise of high readability and low power burn is certainly intriguing.

More likely -- in the near term, at least -- this may be more relevant to users already looking for creative alternatives to laptops, handheld PCs, or tablets. But today, with words of mass production and reasonable pricing being bandied around, there's at least some reason for readers (and writers) who've grown accustomed to the glow of a screen to get a little excited about "the possibilities" again.

Share your thoughts on electronic reading on our Philips discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at