Archive for e-ink
While e-ink display technology may have lost its sheen with the slow demise of standalone ebook reading devices and the growing number of tablets, e-ink is witnessing a resurgence of sorts with smartwatches. We have already seen quite a few smartwatch concepts based on e-paper display, and Archos is the latest to promise an e-ink-based smartwatch sometime this summer. This will be the fourth model in its smartwatch line-up, with the other three introduced during CES in Jan.
Archos hasn’t revealed all the details just yet, though the latest model seems to have a lot in common with the smartwatch trio launched early in January. However, the latest model will incorporate a touchscreen display and is expected to be the costliest of the lot. Also, it would have a curved e-ink panel made of plastic instead of glass to achieve the curvature.
Archos is not known for cramming an insane number of features into their smartwatches, something that Samsung has done with its Galaxy Gear devices. Instead, they visualize the smartwatch as a companion to a smartphone and would help the user with notifications and other data that they receive on the smartphone. The Archos smartwatch will also be compatible with both Android and iOS. It is a simplicity in their approach along with a relatively cheaper price tag that makes their smartwatch score big in a market that is already pegged to be worth billions.
YotaPhone is already into developing the second gen version of its dual screen device, merely months after having launched the original. The prototype that was unveiled at the MWC 2014 is a lot thinner and lighter than the original, a far cry from the drab and bulky looking YotaPhone 1. To be available in color options of white and black, the YotaPhone 2 comes with rounded edges and is a lot stylish and svelte than its predecessor.
Coming to the details now available, the YotaPhone carries a bigger and better e-ink panel at the rear. Size has increased to 4.7 inches and benefits from a denser pixel layout, what with 960 x 540 pixels now lighting up the display. For comparison’s sake, the original YotaPhone offered a 4.3 inch 640 x 360 pixel display that often made texts look fuzzy. A backlit EPD option for some market is also being considered even though that is expected to add to the cost, besides also making the device more bulky.
Another extremely desirable change with YotaPhone 2 is that the secondary e-ink display will now be fully touch sensitive and will support capacitive inputs. This opens up new dimensions with the device so far as functionality is concerned. Users will now be able to get along with many of the tasks for which they had to resort to using the conventional front LCD display. These include sending emails, browsing, tweeting, and messaging and so on as long as they don’t mind doing it on a black and white display.
“The YotaPhone frees people from the fear of missing something important which is behind the dark screen. And also remove bad habits where you wake up the phone 150 times a day just for no reason — just to check what is there, in Twitter and Facebook etc… Snubbing people around yourself in favour of your smartphone becomes quite a bad habit,” said YotaPhone CEO Vladislav Martynov while speaking to TechCrunch.
Coming to apps, while the e-ink panel is now touch sensitive, it still does not seem to be ready to handle all of the Android apps. Fortunately, the company is making available the SDK which no doubt will open up immense opportunity with the secondary display. Apart from reading ebooks, there are a lot of things that can be done with the e-ink panel, which includes playing several slow paced games such as crossword, chess or Sudoku.
As for the front LCD display, it’s a 5 inch full HD Amoled LCD panel that has been included which replaces the 4.3 inch 720p LCD panel of YotaPhone 1. On the inside, it’s a 2.3 GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip that does duty, in conjugation with a 2 GB RAM. The device is 4G compatible and includes a rear 8 megapixel and front 2 megapixel shooter as well. The device also runs the latest Android 4.4 KitKat.
The Russian startup though has stated they are not likely to come up with production models of the YotaPhone 2 before Q4, 2014. They will also be offering a lucrative trade-in program for owners of the first gen YotaPhone to help build brand loyalty. A for its price, YotaPhone CEO Vladislav Martynov stated it could be 10-15 percent cheaper than the premium smartphone offerings such as those from Apple or Samsung.
OAXIS has followed up its earlier attempt at an e-ink smartphone case with a new take on the concept which was unveiled at the ongoing MWC event. The InkCase Lite adds a secondary 3.5 inch 360 X 600 resolution Mobius e-ink display at the rear. It comes with its own battery and CPU which means it does not have to poach on the resources of the smartphone it is clamped on to. Also, this makes the system easy to use as well as there are no tech wizardry to deal with. The cases just have to be fitted with the matching smartphone and those will be ready for use. These communicate with the smartphone via Bluetooth.
What is even better this time is that OAXIS has stated they have enhanced the scope of the smartphone case this time, which means the InkCase Lite will be compatible with all smartphones currently available. That no doubt is a tall ask but at least the better known devices should come under the purview of the new case. In its first avatar, the InkCase Lite was limited to just the iPhone 5, Galaxy S4 and the Note 2 device which attracted a fair bit of criticism.
However, no matter how exciting the concept might sound, there is also no denying the fact that the add-on case does add some bulk to the smartphone. The lack of suitable apps to make the most of the secondary e-ink display also negated all the good things that the e-ink display could have introduced. The best we can have right now is EpiReader which can be used to read ebooks on the e-ink display. The EpiReader can also be used to engrave the display with a favorite quote. Similarly, the app InkCase Photo enables users to fillup the e-ink display with a photo while InkCase Sports can be used to make the display work as a sports timer. The Singpore company has also stated they are making available the InkCase/Lite SDK for developers to explore other ways to make the most of the secondary e-ink display.
Pricing remains a mystery right now, even more so now that the case has been made compatible with more smartphones this time. In any case it can’t be expected to be cheap either given the InkCase i5 now costs $149. With dedicated e-ink readers such as the Kindle ($69) or the Kindle Paperwhite ($119) being much cheaper than that, the choice could boil down to a cheaper but a bigger full-fledged ebook reader or a smaller and hence more portable smartphone add-on that costs a bit more.
Another stand-out feature of the device is that most of the processing is done at the Visionect servers, which also explains the use of a rather meager 120 Mhz chip to power the device. The working is seamless though and users won’t ever have any inkling of the device merely acting as a terminal in most of the cases with the processing being carried out at Visionect Servers. This is much like the Chromebook strategy of using slightly low powered hardware while relying on cloud computing to get the work done. The obvious benefit of such a setup is keeping a check on the price, which in this case is 239 Euros ($320). The device also boasts of gsensor and Wi-Fi connectivity. Other tech specs include a 6 inch capacitive e-ink display that is encased in a sturdy water proof casing that can take quite a beating.
Visionect also mentions companies such as Plastic Logic, eInk, Epson, ST as its key partners. The company also claims to have delivered solutions to Sony, Samsung and such. The Wemar Nautipad pictured above is also based on the Visionect hardware that acts as a boat information display and can be used as an interactive control system to aid in navigation. Visionect products can also be used as a product information display system, as has been done by Slovenia’s biggest telecom company in their stores.
One of the biggest grouses with the dual screened YotaPhone was its lack of support for popular ebook reading apps. This can be considered a criminal waste considering the secondary e-ink display the smartphone incorporates which otherwise would have made for an excellent ebook reading device while on the go if not the primary device to read ebooks. However, things have improved a bit now that the company has begun offering FBReader, a free ebook reading app that allows better choice of reading material to make the most of the e-ink panel, if not the best.
What is even better news is that YotaPhone has started negotiations with Amazon, the big daddy of ebooks and the related paraphernalia to have the same add some grace to the e-ink display. Currently, popular ebook reading apps such as Kobo, B&N or Amazon can be downloaded but they won’t work with the e-ink panel due to lack of adequate software support. However, while it’s not yet known when Amazon could be seen making its debut on the YotaPhone, it is the FBReader that can keep us engaged. The free ebook reading app is compatible with several ebook formats such as rtf, html, palmdoc and so on.
However, while the above developments can add some respectability to the device, it otherwise needs a bump in its specs to emerge as a serious challenger to the mainstream smartphone devices rather than remaining confined as a niche product.
The YotaPhone breaks a lot of new ground with its dual display design, opening up a lot of new opportunities for users. With a regular LCD display on one side and an e-ink panel of equal size on the other, the YotaPhone could well be the ultimate smartphone device for many out there; well, theoretically at least. The device isn’t exactly cheap either, having already gone on sale in select European countries for a cool 499 Euros, though it’s not known when it’s going to land in the US.
One question that is on top of everyone’s mind is whether the YotaPhone is as good as it claims. The device comes close, but leaves some space for improvement. To begin with, the device lacks the sleek shine of many of its ilk. Instead, the YotaPhone comes across as a chubby device with thick bezels that give it somewhat of a budget smartphone look.
The lack of the typical Android set of buttons along the front makes things look clean and interesting, though it also requires the user to use a few swiping actions to get going. A right swipe is needed to reach home, while a left swipe accomplishes what the back button does. To see recent apps, one will have to double tap on the display. Similarly, a swipe down using two fingers will take a screenshot of the display and transfer it to the rear display. The gesture controls might be a little disappointing to Android loyalists, which is further amplified by the fact that the swipe pads can be unresponsive at times.
This takes us straight to the most interesting aspect of the device, the secondary e-ink panel along the rear. Unfortunately, being used to the likes of the Amazon Kindles, the rather low 640 x 360 pixel e-ink panel leaves a lot to be desired. Text can be fuzzy to hardly readable at times on the display that has been fetched from the front LCD panel.
However, reading ebooks can be satisfactory, though not the best. The biggest issue here is that the e-ink panel is bogged with ghost images, with a faint image of the previous display lingering. If that is not enough, the lack of adequate ebook reading apps can be telling. While popular ebook reading apps such as Kindle or Kobo can be downloaded on the device, the same won’t work with the e-ink display. Instead, those who’d like to read books will have to make do with the Bookmate app, and it suffers from a very limited collection. There aren’t many apps currently available that can make the most of the e-ink panel, though the notepad that the device comes with can be pretty handy.
These issues however cannot dent the biggest advantage that the e-ink panel has to offer, that of its power saving credentials. The display can hold an image all day long without draining the battery and the rear e-ink panel can also be handy for checking email, notifications, and incoming messages without having to wake up the phone, thus saving power. The e-ink panel also allows for reading just as comfortably in bright sunlight conditions as it would indoors, adding tremendous flexibility to the device.
As for the front LCD 1,280 x 720 pixel display, things are pretty much the same as can be expected of a device running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean except that its controls require getting used to. The dual core chip rated at 1.7 GHz does a good job at keeping things quick and peppy though it doesn’t have the more advanced quad core chips.
In the end, what can be said is that it’s still a work-in-progress. The YotaPhone needs to be fine-tuned before it can deliver a complete and enriching user experience. While the device as a whole needs a fresh and thorough once over, the rear e-ink panel will definitely benefit from more third party apps being developed to make the most of it, something that is practically non-existent right now. As things stand right now, there isn’t much that can be done with the e-ink side of the YotaPhone even though it does have the potential of being a pretty handy ebook reading device.
Tokyoflash Japan is the newest entrant to the rapidly emerging smartwatch segment. However, the Kisai Rorschach smartwatch is unlike any other smartwatch currently available in the market. While the others in the game are busy wooing buyers with tech bits or the unique features that their smartwatch devices are capable of, the Kisai Rorschach stands out miles away from the rest in the way it accomplishes its most basic function, that of displaying time. Those in the knowing may have already picked up the scent though the majority out there is least likely to be aware of what or who Rorschach refers to.
To begin with, Hermann Rorschach has been a Swiss psychologist and had developed the Rorschach inkblot test in 1921. Sometimes often referred to as just the inkblot test, it has been described in Wikipedia as a “psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both.”
However, no matter how weird the display might look like which seems to be the farthest it can be from depicting the current time, it actually is quite easy to read the time once explained. The top left portion of the marking depicts the hour while the bottom left portion shows the minute. The rest are just reflections of the hour and minute readings which in turn gives rise to the inkblot effect.
The Rorschach bit apart, the smartwatch comes with an e-ink display which means the display can be on at all times. It is powered by the standard CR2016 watch battery which again is user replaceable. Further adding to the power saving credential of the smartwatch is the ‘Sleep Mode’ feature that it offers. As is self explanatory, this mode when invoked will draw just the minimum from the battery. Also, the Sleep Mode is designed to come in effect from 12 AM to 7 AM, a time period when everyone is supposed to be fast asleep. Company sources announced the smartwatch can remain in operation for three years at a stretch on a single battery with the Sleep Mode enabled.
Unfortunately, the Kisai Rorschach is exclusive to Japan, at least for the time being. No word on when it can be seen on foreign shores.
The Yota smartphone, which comes with a secondary e-ink display, is all set to arrive at markets in December, just in time to make the most of the coming holiday shopping frenzy. The device breaks new ground in that, apart from a regular 720p color LCD display at the front, the Yota smartphone also includes an e-ink panel along the rear which can be used to read or hold images for an extended period of time without draining the battery. E-Ink displays have been known for their lesser drain on battery power, which has been put to ingenious use by the Russia-based Yota.
As for specs, the Yota dual screen device comes with a 4.3 inch 720p display, 12 megapixel camera, 2,100mAh battery, and features 4G LTE support. The device is powered by a 1.5 GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 Plus chip and is based on Android 4.1 at the time of its unveiling almost a year ago. What this implies is that we can expect the final product to see several of its specs updated when it is finally launched in December.
However, the all crucial pricing details remain quiet, though unconfirmed sources maintain it could be priced around 20,000 rubles. This translates roughly to about 600USD which, if true, will no doubt be applicable for the unlocked version of the device. Of course the price will come down once the carrier subsidies comes into the picture. The device, no matter how innovative it is, has to be priced right for it to be translated into a commercially successful entity.
e Ink has just unveiled their new corporate headquarters in the US, which puts their business and R&D divisions all under one roof. The new facility is a modern, open and collaborative space, labs, pilot facilities, test chambers and administrative offices, all under one roof. The company was previously headquartered in Cambridge.
The new E Ink Innovation Center represents a $36 million investment, is over 140,000 square feet, can hold up to 400 employees and reinforces E Ink’s position as a leading technological business innovator in Massachusetts. E Ink was just awarded the Silver Team Massachusetts Economic Impact Award by the MassEcon council for its outstanding contribution to the Massachusetts economy. The new HQ basically is double the size has the old buildings and should help the company facilitate growth into digital signage.
“The additional space will support E Ink’s growth and expansion into new markets, and will foster a more creative and collaborative environment for our employees,” said Felix Ho, CEO of E Ink Holdings. “Our new facility in Billerica was specifically designed with our technology needs in mind and offers us significantly more space. It gives our employees a dynamic and energizing working environment while allowing us to invest in the Massachusetts economy, growing our business where it all started.”
e-Ink has set a worlds record for the latest e-Paper sign that is installed at the UN Headquarters in New York. The eWall is an intricate combination of architectural, display and network engineering. It stands about 6 meters wide with 231 tiled 7.4″ displays arranged in a grid of 33 displays across by 7 displays high. With an overall resolution of 26,400 x 3,360 pixels, it is perfect to read at long and short distances.
The essence of the eWall is to provide delegates with scheduling, news and other information. One of the more interesting aspects is the design mode that will show giant high resolution images; or can fade seamlessly into an unobtrusive wall when turned off.
“The eWall is a perfect example of E Ink enabling designers to deliver information where they never thought possible before,” said Harit Doshi, head of signage business and director of business development for E Ink Holdings. “This project further demonstrates E Ink’s diversification into different markets – specifically the digital signage market – as a key focus market segment.”
E-ink is hoping for strong promotional value with the sign at UN Headquarters. Currently 70% of their total revenue stems from e-paper displays and signage only accounts for 5%. They are hoping to increase brand awareness in this new segment to offset the cumulative financial loses the last few quarters.
There are three new ebook readers waiting to be unleashed in the Russian ebook scene, courtesy the Russian electronics company Qumo. The three ereaders are each aimed at different price segments, starting with the Libro Basic, which is the cheapest of the lot at 2990 rubles or $89 USD. At this price point, it’s just basic features that one should be expecting, which includes a Pearl e-ink display along with 4 GB of storage. The Libro Basic even lacks a wi-fi connection, which means users will have to depend on an external computing device to feed the ereader with the reading materials.
Next, the Libro Lux offers the Pearl e-ink display together with a few other goodies, such as built in lighting, an audio player, and a FM radio. The extra features have also added to the cost, priced as it is at 4490 rubles or about $136 USD.
Finally, the Libro TouchLux is the top of the line model and is the costliest of the three, being priced at 5990 rubles, which comes to about $181 USD. The higher price tag is justified by the inclusion of a few more extra features, such as a touchscreen interface added on top of the Pearl e-ink HD display having a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. The Libro TouchLux runs on Android, though the exact version remains undisclosed. Qumo is even pegging the device as a mini tablet to some extent, though its processing capabilities have been kept under wraps.
Among the features that is common for all the ereaders includes 4 GB of RAM as well as the Pearl e-ink display, exemplified by a higher contrast while still being battery efficient. All of the models are available in black and offer a six-inch screen.
Qumo has also not revealed when the three ereaders will hit streets in Russia, except that it’s going to happen this autumn.
NFC is fast becoming a standard feature among the premium–as well as the not so premium–Android devices. However, while this technology enables compatible devices to transmit data simply by tapping them together, there could be other uses the NFC technology could be put to. Take for instance the recent endeavor attempted by Intel, along with researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Massachusetts, which successfully demonstrated that the Near Field Communication technology can also be used to transmit energy as well across compatible devices.
The demonstration used a NFC enabled smartphone along with a separate e-ink display wherein an image – some contact information – was successfully transmitted to the e-ink screen without the latter requiring a power source of its own. The virtues of an e-ink display are already well known as these require the least power backup, only draining the battery when showing a new image. There will be no power drawn when the same image remains displayed on the screen.
The benefits of such a setup can be immense. The secondary e-ink display can be used to display static images such as ticketing information, a map, or other data. What is even more amazing is that the e-ink display won’t require a power source of its own as the power required to display the image is transmitted through NFC itself. When a new image is required to be displayed, the same can be transmitted from the smartphone via NFC. This way, one can have a secondary display based on e-ink technology that can be used to carry an image for almost as long as one might wish to. However, this is just a technology demonstrator with no mention of how the same could be put to commercial use.
Meanwhile, here is also a video of the same to let you have a better idea of it all.
Sid Display Week is happening right now in Vancouver, BC. This conference mainly showcases the latest screen technology for smartphones, televisions, advertising, and, of course, e-readers. We talked to some of the leading companies today and got their outlook on how the current e-reader landscape is shaping up and where the industry might go later this year and into 2014.
The e-reader industry is not as alluring as it once was. Over 24 million e-readers will be shipped this year, according to E Ink and Freescale Semi-Conductors. The competition and radical price-drops in this sector are benefiting customers with low-prices of some really quality stuff, but it’s dissuading many companies from entering in or getting out.
Neonode, Mirasol, Plastic Logic, Pixel Qi, Bridgestone, and many other companies have entered the competitive landscape of e-readers over the course of the last few years. Almost all of them have abandoned making devices and either got out completely or turned to licensing their technology to other companies. Bridgestone and Plastic Logic got out of making devices and abandoned the sector altogether. Pixel Qi turned to licensing its plastic display screens to government, military, and private businesses. Even the head boss Mary Lou Jepsen jumped ship and is now working for Google as the Head of the Display Division. Qualcomm decided against participating in the e-reader space and instead is working on smartphones and wearable technology. Neonode has something cooking in its RND labs and announced a new IR display screen, but details are minimal.
E Ink, the e-paper found in almost all of the current generation e-readers on the market, is optimistic. Most companies that make readers based on their technology will continue to do so for the next few years. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Pocketbook, Ectaco, and Bookeen remained committed to the spirit of digital reading devices.
So how will e-readers change in the next few years? Freescale thinks that many companies will begin to shift towards its i.MX6 Solo processors. The chip has 256 KB of L2 Cache and compatible with 32 bit DDR3 memory chips. It will provide e-readers with faster page turns and a better experience than the current crop of i.MX5 processors that are getting a little bit long in the tooth. We will also continue to see larger screens come down the pipe, as evident in the new Sony 13.3 inch e-reader. It is geared towards academics and PDF enthusiasts. E Ink verified with us that the new flexible display panel can be tailored towards any size, it depends on the cut. So we may see a resurgence in 9.7 inch e-readers that have the weight reduced significantly.
Onyx Boox, Qualcomm, Yota, and E Ink think that secondary e-paper screens are the way the industry is moving right now. Google Glasses is the poster child for wearable technology and the internet is rife with Apple iWatch rumors. The truth is, e-paper watches have been around since the Pebble captured the Kickstater imagination by offering a pseudo e-paper experience and pairing it with your smartphone. Onyx, Yota, and Mirasol all think that secondary displays on the back of your phone is the way to go. E Ink formed a relationship with Japan based Seiko a few years ago. They have been pumping out e-paper watches for awhile, and the technology is fairly refined.
It will be interesting to see if the broad non-urban type of customer would adopt a secondary display on their phone. Potential uses include Maps, Google Now, Text Messages, and other features. There is an air of uncertainty at SID on the customers, but vendors are expressing a ton of interest.
There is one major trend this year at SID in relation to e-paper: advertising. We talked to many small companies involved in digital signage, and they are all marketing e-paper price tags, screens merged together for retail signs, freezer tags, and grocery store fare. E Ink announced two major new technologies at SID, and focused on this emerging sector. I think the company is realizing it can’t have all of its eggs in one basket and is branching away from its bread and butter market. Many small companies have told us that grocery stores and retail are responding in a big way. The tech is still too expensive to replace paper in the short term and only the majors can afford it. Still, there is something alluring at being able to update billboards and price tags on the fly. There is strong WIFI integration with this technology, so you can change the price without having to replace them manually. If it was raining outside, you could set a dynamic program to reduce the prices on umbrellas. Lord knows we need them in Vancouver.
To sum it all up, e-readers will remain relevant for the next two years. They will become faster and more responsive. There will also be more choice in the different sizes of screens available, as many vendors are starting to deviate from the six inch standard. You will start to see more e-paper in the retail and produce environment, and secondary display screens will start to emerge.