eReader and Screen Tech Pioneer IRX Goes Bankrupt, is Dissolved

eReader and Screen Tech Pioneer IRX Goes Bankrupt, is Dissolved Bankruptcy e-Reading Hardware Screen Tech As 2014 draws to a close so does the final chapter on Irex Technologies, one of the early ereader makers.

Yesterday a reader tipped me to the news that the Dutch screen tech startup IRX Innovations has gone bankrupt. IRX was formed in 2010 from the remains of ereader pioneer Irex Technologies, and was for all intents and purposes the same company with new investors and a new name. (Thanks, Zetmolm!)

Public documents confirm that IRX was handed over to a receiver in October 2014. According to reports filed about a month later, the company is kaput. It's not clear what will happen to the assets, but the company won't be coming back under a different name. (Thanks, Huub!Its website has been turned off, and all of the employees have probably found jobs elsewhere.

And that's a shame, because IRX was working on some interesting screen tech.

I haven't had reason to write about them recently, but I have been following the details shared by the IRX marketing dept. According to one of IRX's suppliers:

Currently, the IRX team is developing a new innovative color solution built on their electro-osmotic technology for electronic paper displays, that places three switching layers on top of each other. Each layer can electrically switch to its required color (cyan, magenta or yellow) or be 100% transparent. So for example, for a white image, all three layers become transparent. Light passes through all the layers and is reflected by a reflector placed behind the layers creating extremely high brightness, far greater than is possible for current systems. When creating a certain color, the technology controls the required amount of color particles in each of the layers. The result is a color performance comparable to printed paper.

That sounds neat, but I haven't found any evidence that IRX ever got beyond displaying a single color (that's why I haven't written about them).

While there was some talk of 3-color screens at SID Display Week 2013, the only videos posted to Youtube show show grayscale screens which look similar to E-ink screens.

For example:

So at this point it's really not clear whether this 3-color electro-osmosis screen tech ever actually existed in the lab, much less had any practical value.

And thus ends the second life of an ereader pioneer.

***

In its first life, IRX got its start as a project at Royal Philips (aka Koninklijke Philips, or simply Philips).

eReader and Screen Tech Pioneer IRX Goes Bankrupt, is Dissolved Bankruptcy e-Reading Hardware Screen Tech Philips was instrumental in developing the 6" E-ink screen for the Sony Librie, which launched in Japan in 2004. That R&D effort also led to the development of an 8" display which had a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 (the same resolution as on the Cybook Ocean). Irex was spun off of Philips with the plan to develop an ereader based on that screen.

The Irex Iliad ran an open version of Linux on a 400MHz CPU with 64MB RAM and 256MB internal storage. It didn't have a frontlight (this simply wasn't possible in 2006) but it did have a Wacom touchscreen and Wifi. According to Wikipedia, the Iliad cost 599 euros when it shipped in 2006.

Here's a short video from 2007 which shows some of its features:

While it had software ahead of its time, the Iliad was in some ways a clunker with a hardware design that didn't quite live up to its promises (battery life, for example), although the later models with revised hardware did come close.

I can recall from the user reports in 2007 and 2008 that it was much more of a hacker's project than a consumer product; the more interesting reports all came from the developers who added their own software or tweaked Irex's software to improve performance.

Irex's later products were much better, although I'm not sure they were as popular.

Irex released several more ereader models before going bankrupt in 2010. In what would be better termed as a reorganization, the assets were bought by IRX Innovations and all of the existing employees keeping their jobs.

They weren't so lucky the second time around.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

11 Comments

  1. Jmirko27 December, 2014

    This is sad news. In my quest for the perfect digital notebook, I have owned all Irex e-reader models (various Iliads, DR800, DR1000). I found them all to be remarkable in terms of design, both on the hardware and the software side, with a lot of creative ideas. The large screen sizes, the use of Wacom technology, and the open software were ahead of their time. I wonder how things would have turned out if they had received FCC approval to sell the devices in the U.S. before they ran out of cash. Regardless of the venture’s ultimate failure, those guys have my respect!

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder27 December, 2014

      “I wonder how things would have turned out if they had received FCC approval to sell the devices in the U.S. before they ran out of cash.”

      That would have changed very little. Remember, the iPad launched in 2010 and killed the market for large screen ereaders. The iPad killed a Samsung 9.7″ ereader as well as the Plastic Logic Que, and I’d bet it also killed Irex.

      But even if it hadn’t, Irex’s own ineptitude would have done so. This company screwed up its FCC paperwork.If they hadn’t made that mistake they would have made another.

      Reply
  2. Jmirko28 December, 2014

    “That would have changed very little. Remember, the iPad launched in 2010 and killed the market for large screen ereaders. The iPad killed a Samsung 9.7? ereader as well as the Plastic Logic Que, and I’d bet it also killed Irex.”

    Yet we still have companies like Onyx and Pocketbook selling e-readers that are often inferior to the Irex products of 5 years ago. Somehow they managed to survive, without even selling on the U.S. market.

    „This company screwed up its FCC paperwork.”

    Interesting, I didn’t know that. Do you have any sources for that info?

    Reply
    1. Gertjan28 December, 2014

      Well, FCC changed rules during the game. After Amazon launched its 3G equipped ereader as a ‘mobile device’, when IREX tried to approve theirs, FCC came up rules for a new product group. As this process took a few months, IREX missed their end-of-year launch window, and in turn, investors funding.

      Full disclaimer: I was working at the company when it happened. FCC may have their own story but they will probably not tell 🙂

      Reply
    2. Nate Hoffelder28 December, 2014

      Yes, but the thing about Onyx and Pocketbook is that they also make smaller ereaders as well as other devices. Irex only made big stuff, putting them in the classic position to be disrupted by a better device.

      Reply
  3. fjtorres28 December, 2014

    Check this series of exchanges back in 2009:

    http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=61210
    The very last line would make a fine epitaph for the company:

    “Irex can tease more than deliver.”

    Reply
  4. Angélique29 December, 2014

    This is sad. My first eReader was an iRex Iliad and the only eReader I ever owned that would smartly handle PDFs display. At the time, it cost an eye, though. But the product was close to perfect (even though it would be a bit heavy compared to nowadays eReaders).
    I actually didn’t even know they had survived 2010!

    Reply
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