When the Earl was first announced in May 2013 it was an Android tablet with a 6" E-ink screen, a solar panel, a bevy of sensors, and a firm ship date in late summer 2013.
Two years later and the Earl has gone through multiple hardware revisions, missed multiple ship dates, and it's still nowhere near ready to enter production.
According to the latest update, the Earl tablet will be. When or if the Earl arrives it will look nothing like the concept design we first saw two years ago:
Sqigle, the company developing the Earl, had revealed several months ago that they were parting ways with their existing hardware partner, Onyx. The two companies had concluded that they had reached the limits of Onyx's abilities and experience, so it was time to bring in a replacement.
Here's where I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that the new partner is Netronix, a company with nearly a decade of experience in developing ereaders for dozens of companies.
The bad news is that bringing Netronix in means that the entire design is getting tossed out the window, a "full reboot" as Sqigle put it. Netronix wants to use their in-house resources to develop the production unit.
They project that they'll have the Earl finished and ready to ship to backers in 9 months.
The new model will feature a modular design based around a flexible 4.7" E-ink screen, not the 6" screen found on the original prototype. Sqigle noted that after two years of working with the prototypes, "we've found a rugged tablet in most scenarios required the use of both hands. Other than reading guide books or maps, almost every other feature functions better on a smaller display."
Sqigle went on to add:
While we wait for a preliminary design from Netronix, we’re working to setup a new office here in Seattle. Working remotely with the new team will be much more manageable and it looks as though I won't need to fly as much. My next trip to Taiwan shouldn’t be until the end of May. We expected to grow into a company like Netronix, but with this opportunity we’ll have to hit the ground running. Development costs have effectively doubled, not only do we need more funding, we need more customers. We’re planning to spend the next couple months putting together a dedicated marketing, sales and support team. We fully intend to fulfill our promise, though components may have changed, the original idea is still here. We're pushing forward and with your continued support we'll be able to finally bring Earl to life!
While this is quite the dark cloud, there is a silver lining.
Two years have passed since the Earl was first announced, and in that time the ereader and mobile device markets have advanced significantly. E-ink screens are better, the frontlight is now an established technology, and mobile electronics are both cheaper and more energy-efficient that they were a mere two years ago.
Sqigle has also had two years to work on the software which will run on the Earl. Not all Android apps like running on E-ink screens; graphic intensive apps like map apps tend to choke, freeze, or crash, and Sqigle has had time to work their way through the potential conflicts.
We could see the benefit of the overlong development cycle when the Earl finally ships, but after two years of waiting I won't be getting my hopes up.