I'm in Palm Desert, California for the Demo show (run by a sister company of PC Advisor), and one of the first items unveiled here certainly fulfills Demo's mission of being a launchpad for truly innovative new products. It's a photo-printing technology that allows for truly pocket-sized printers - or even printers built into digital cameras - and which doesn't use ink.

The company behind it, Zink, has developed photo paper with embedded color crystals. The printer heats and melts the crystals, creating snapshot-sized prints that Zink says are waterproof and unrippable.

The lack of ink is what lets the technology enable teeny-tiny printers - when you think about it, the majority of space inside a typical ink jet printer is devoted to the ink cartridges and print heads, the carriage they sit on, and related requirements,

As with any photo printer, the ultimate question is obviously "How do the prints look?" I haven't seen any close-up yet, but I'll check 'em out before the show is over. [I saw some prints, and they looked okay but didn't knock my socks off.]

Zink will license its technology to manufacturers, and says that two products will be out by the end of this year: A pocket printer, and a camera with an integrated printer. The printer they showed did indeed look remarkably compact; the camera, on the other hand, was on the bulky side. (But they, any digital camera that can output prints would be a new and interesting idea, and, for some applications, a very useful one.)

If this sounds like a modern version of Polaroid photography, that's entirely appropriate - Zink's technology started out as a research project at Polaroid. Even if it's not coming out under the Polaroid name, it's nice to think that Edwin Land's once wildly innovative company (which has devolved into a brand name for a random assortment of generic consumer electronics products) may turn out to have had one more really innovative technology left in it...