Over the course of the last few years e-readers have dramatically come down in price. They once cost over three hundred dollars and now a quality device will cost less than a hundred. How have companies managed to reduce costs, while still maintaining high build quality? The answer is surprising.
The Amazon Kindle Basic, Kobo Glo HD and Barnes and Noble Nook Glowlight all have infrared touch, instead of a capacitive touchscreen. The technology powering these e-readers is infrared technology from a company called Neonode.
Neonode zForce technology consists of a set of light emitters and detectors, an optical light guide with lenses and a touch controller IC that is connected to a host. The host run Neonode´s proprietary embedded software stack and are connected to the touch controller(s). The touch controller IC regulates the light emitters and they send out short pulses of light just above the touch surface (or into a glass or fluid). The touch controller continuously monitor the light that is collected by the detectors and check the ambient light scene and try to calibrate the system to work in all light conditions. When a slight intensity shift of the received light occur the software try to find what has happen and initiate tracking of the object that is on the surface. The size and position of the touch object (i.e. a finger) is reported back to the host. By combining the measured value from a number of detectors, the touch position and object size are calculated. Compensations are also made for dust, wear out and other small particles on the optical surfaces as well as for variation in component quality.
With zForce technology enabled touch screens you enjoy complete freedom of design as there is no requirement for a layered glass or plastic film that overlay the display surface. The result is a 100% optical transparency window with consistent image quality and no glare combined with industry’s lowest cost.
One of the benefits of Z-Force is that you can interact with your device via a Stylus. Some of the more modern e-readers can actually register multiple points of touch, allowing you to pinch and zoom. For the most part, the average consumer would be hard pressed to tell the difference between capacitive and IR.
Neonode is likely the biggest little company in the e-reader sector and they are responsible for the touchscreen technology found in most e-readers on the market. In 2012 they had a staggering 80% market-share as the e-reader boom was in full effect.
The company has just announced their latest earnings for the three months of the year, ending March 31, 2015. Neonode generated $2.3 million, compared to net revenues for the three months ended March 31, 2014 of $1.0 million.
The increase of 123% in net revenues is mainly due to license fee revenues from their HP printers, e-Readers with Amazon and Infotainment systems with various automotive customers.
I find it deeply concerning that whenever Neonode reports fiscal earnings they start and end with Amazon. They simply don’t mention other companies, such as Barnes and Noble or Kobo. Is the entire e-reader sector Amazon? Well, they are responsible for 75% of all e-book sales in the US and 95% in the United Kingdom.
Neonode will likely be relevant in the e-reader industry for a number of years, as the industry is in a race to the bottom. Everyone is trying to cut costs anyway they can. The average e-reader now has no audio functionality, SD card, keyboard, Bluetooth or an accelerometer.