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Amazon Ordering Fewer E-ink Screens – Death of the eReader or the Rise of Liquavista?

kindle[1]I think we now know why the CEO of E-ink stepped down last week. According to Digitimes, Amazon has cut their orders for E-ink screens:

Amazon Kindle e-book reader panel shipments reached about 750,000 units in January 2013 followed by 420,000 units in February. The shipments are expected to drop even further to 20,000 units in March and April, which is expected to affect E Ink Holding’s (EIH) revenues for the two months, according to industry sources.

E-ink is quoted as saying that this was not unexpected; the first quarter is usually the quiet period in the calendar, with sales picking up later in the year. E-ink’s revenues were down 33% and 44% in January and February, respectively, and the following 2 months could even be worse.

I wonder how accurate the production rumor really is? When you consider the scale of Amazon’s worldwide operations, a supply of only 20 thousand components is effectively the same as not producing any Kindles at all. That 20,000 is barely enough to repair returned units, so unless Amazon is in the habit of sinking money into excess stock this rumor suggests that they’re going to stop making Kindles for at least part of 2013.

How long will Amazon stop? That’s another question, and that depends on whether they have actually stopped producing Kindles. I have a sneaking suspicion that Amazon is planning to start producing Kindles with Liquavista screens.

That would make sense, would it not? Amazon is reportedly buying Liquavista, and that implies Amazon wants to use Liquavista’s low-power screen in the Kindle. Starting production in, say, May would guarantee a sufficient quantity of color Kindles to ship in October – more than enough, in fact, to supply a worldwide launch. Amazon had supply issues last Fall when the Kindle Paperwhite launched, so I can see them wanting to avoid repeating the problem with a new color Kindle.

On the other hand, it is almost as likely that I have Liquavista on the brain and am reading too much into this small piece of production news. Let’s see what is leaked over the next few months.

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Javi March 25, 2013 um 2:03 pm

Do you think amazon may put on the market a Liquavista screen kindle a few months after they buy it?

Nate Hoffelder March 25, 2013 um 2:20 pm

It’s certainly not impossible. Liquavista wouldn’t be making the screens on their own; that is usually shopped out to one of the existing LCD fabs. So it is possible that Amazon is buying new screens at the same time that they’re investing in the company.

flyingtoastr March 25, 2013 um 3:14 pm

How did that Amazon buyout of TI work out that you were sure was going to happen last year?

Nate Hoffelder March 25, 2013 um 3:16 pm

That’s not what I wrote:

Brian March 25, 2013 um 3:08 pm

Do we know the numbers by month for Amazon in previous years?

Nate Hoffelder March 25, 2013 um 3:22 pm


fjtorres March 25, 2013 um 3:31 pm

1- I don’t think Amazon stocks bare screens for repairs. Instead, they swap broken ones for new or refurbs. So 20,000 screens would mean 20,000 readers.

2- I think somebody slipped a decimal and they really mean 200,000. Which is low by Kindle standards but still bigger than pretty much everybody else.

3- An Amazon purchase of Liquavista would take about 3 months to close. Even if they have a design ready to go to FCC certification today, the earliest such a beast could ship would be in June. And that assumes an instant ramp-up to volume production. A more likely scenario would be a deal announced in April (but not the 1st), closing in June, with pilot production of a production-ready design in July. Once yield levels are determined, the go-nogo on production would come in August with FCC certification and the product announcement in Oct for November shipment.

All that assumes a suitable design ready to go from day one. If any further R&D is needed the Liquavista Kindle would be a 2014-15 product.

Bottom line: I’m not buying the report at 20,000 units, much less a total shutdown.

The most likely scenario is a whole new entry level Kindle coming in August followed by a PW2 with a better front-light and audio, a cheaper FireHD and a lightly refreshed 8.9 inch tablet.

Pure speculation: if we see a Liquavista Kindle it won’t be a 6incher but rather an 8incher.

Will Entrekin March 26, 2013 um 8:20 am

Oh, man, 8″ Kindle Paperwhite with full-color Liquivista screen? That’d be game over for other e-ink devices.

Nate Hoffelder March 26, 2013 um 8:23 am

Not really. An 8″ device isn’t as pocketable as the current 6″ ereaders. Now, if Amazon released a 7″ Kindle with a Liquavista screen and running Android, then it would be game over.

fjtorres March 26, 2013 um 11:21 am

Don’t get your hopes up.
As I said, I doubt Liquavista is ready for production this year.
Second, Liquavista is no replacement for Paperwhite; it only promises 2X the battery life of LCD so for pure text reading eink is still much better. The most likely use would be a very light high-resolution tablet, trading off battery capacity for lighter weight, because one of Liquavista’s strengths is fast refresh.
It’s weakness is that it doesn’t have a zero-draw mode, even in reflective-only applications. So it will never be as light or as long-lived as eink and it unlikely Amazon would use it for a pure reader device.
If they really have an interest it would be for something else; the phone or the tablets.

Javi March 26, 2013 um 11:55 am

Is that true battery of a hypothetical ereader Liquavista only last hours against eInk week offered?
I had read Liquavita consumed less energy than eink…
Sorry my inglish..

fjtorres March 26, 2013 um 12:45 pm

A typical ebook reader runs 30 hours or so, of actual non-stop usage, with cellphone-grade batteries. (Typically around 1,700 mAh capacity)
A typical tablet runs 8-10 hours nonstop, using *much* bigger batteries than a typical reader. (State of the art is the Ipad3 battery at 42WHrs, or 11,500 mAh capacity. The iPad2 ran about half that.)
Liquavista claimed 2X better power consumption than LCD, which implies you could have the same battery life as a typical tablet with half the battery weight or double the battery life at the same weight.

Typically, tablets have more power hungry electronics than readers so the display isn’t the only big power draw but it is the biggest one.
Taking liquavista at their word (1/2 LCD power draw) means an iPad2-class device would need about a 3400 mAh battery to get about 10 hours of use which is double the battery for a third the runtime of a Paperwhite.
For a color reader they might implement the liquavista tech in a reflective/transflective configuration with frontlighting to get better battery life that with a reguar backlit LCD but it is doubtful a Liquavista Kindle will match the paperwhite in either weight or battery life.
And it definitely will *not* be as cheap.
So, no, Liquavista will not be replacing eink in readers any time soon.

Thomas March 26, 2013 um 8:40 pm

Battery life on tablets is highly variable. The screen often isn’t the biggest power drain, but it is the one continuous power drain, in that whenever the tablet is on, the screen drains a steady amount. The other main power drains are the processor and the wireless radios for wifi/3G/4G. My cheapo tablet gets about 16 hours battery life as an ereader, with wifi off. With wifi on, running a demanding game, I get less than 5 hours.

Pure ereaders get much better battery life because, AFAIK, the Eink screen only uses power when changing the screen. Staying on one page uses almost no battery. Also, dedicated ereaders can use weaker processors that use less power.

chahui May 3, 2013 um 1:22 am

I don’t know technology much but if liquivista is so good why it’s not used in kindle.
If only for color, I think nothing compares to lcd’s color.
And e-ink can show color too, with so much lower cost.
Cost is important especially when tablet are around $200.

Techguy March 26, 2013 um 9:49 am

Having been in the display industry for many years and followed ePaper very closely, I see virtually no chance of Liquavista based readers shipping this year. If the technology was good and it worked and it was manufacturable, why would Samsung sell it? There are likely other drawbacks they discovered and find it only useful for narrow application where power is important. They needed a device manufacturers who may pay more given they are in a subsidized market. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a high volume production run of displays using Liquivista and this will take time to qualify and work out yield issues. Amazon is hungry to offer a low power color product and they are willing to take some risk. Someone still needs to make the displays as Amazon can’t do that. Will it be Samsung?? If not, who?? If its not Samsung, that is another 2 years at least before release. In the end, the visual effect of Liquavista will always be closer to an LCD than paper because it will will either use a color filter or a stacked CMY architecture. It is these various layers and depths that will look different to the eye than the continuous top surface of E-Ink type displays – but you have color. So if you like the aesthetic of the current monochrome products, you have to decide how important color is to you.

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[…] diesem Hintergrund bekommt auch der kürzliche Rücktritt des E Ink Holding CEO Scott Liu eine neue Seite. Zwar wurde beteuert, dass der Rücktritt freiwillig und aus persönlichen Gründen geschehen sei, […]

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[…] The Digital Reader berichtet, dass Amazon weniger eInk-Displays bestellt. Das kann natürlich an der im Frühjahr immer wieder auftretenden Bestellflaute bei vielen Unternehmen liegen, deutet aber eventuell auf Veränderungen im eReader-Sektor des Marktgiganten hin. Vermutlich will Amazon seine neuen Kindles aber mit dem Liquavista-Display versehen. Das Unternehmen mit seinen stromsparenden farbigen Displays wird aller Voraussicht nach von Samsung an Amazon verkauft. Vielleicht können wir im Herbst mit einem bunten Kindle rechnen. Mehr Hintergründe gibt es bei, wo ich auch ein Video zur sogenannten Electrowetting-Bildschirmtechnik gefunden habe. Die Technik wird auch bei Heise näher erläutert. […]

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