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E-ink Buys Controlling Interest in Sipix

The epaper screen tech industry got a little smaller today. E-ink, the largest manufacturer of epaper screens , has just announced plans to buy a controlling interest in its smaller rival, Sipix.

E-ink will be buying out AU Optronics' 82.7% share in the company, and it also plans to acquire the rest of the stock by the end of the year. The total deal is worth around $50 million USD, a sum that is likely less than E-ink got last month for licensing its screen tech to Sharp.

This is a rather curious bit of news, isn’t it? E-ink seems to have stalled in terms of tech development, with their latest advancement having been the Pearl E-ink screen (released in 2010). While I had heard a few weeks back that they were working in the labs, it’s still been 2 years since they improved upon anything. Thnik about how much LCDs, OLEDs, and other screen tech has changed in that time and you get the impression that E-ink is standing still.

Oh, before you point out the Triton color E-ink screen as new screen tech, let me correct you. The Triton screen is based on the Pearl E-ink screen which came out in 2010. All that was added as an extra filter layer on top of the existing screen which adds the RGB colors.

Today’s news would suggest that E-ink doesn’t have any advances of their own coming any time soon so they went with the next best thing. They bought out a smaller rival and plan to integrate the new tech into their own.

This is probably going to turn out to be a good idea. Sipix was originally launched in 1999, so it’s about the same age as E-ink (founded in 1997 as a spinoff from MIT).  They were working on a competing epaper screen but never had the market success of E-ink. From what I can tell, Sipix had trouble manufacturing their screen. From what I was told that year, they were having a lot of problems with screens going bad after being in use for a few weeks. This delayed production into 2010, with the first ereaders shipping later in that year. Right now Sipix screens are only used on a handful of ereaders, none of which have had much market success.

E-ink, on the other hand, shipped their first ereader screen in 2005. The Sony Librie didn’t have much market success, but it was enough to inspire Sony to release the Sony Reader PRS-500 in 2006. And then the Kindle adopted the E-ink screen, and that was all she wrote. E-ink now has around 90% of that very lucrative market.

See, production and distribution are a couple of activities that E-ink has down pat. And now they’ll have something new to produce, and I do wonder what they’ll make. E-ink showed off quite a few different uses for their screen tech SID Display week 2012 back in June; they had prototypes and shipped devices for everything from thermostats to whiteboards. With the purchase of Sipix the possibilities can only expand.

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Mike Cane August 3, 2012 um 11:52 am

Consolidation before extinction.

charlie August 3, 2012 um 12:46 pm

yes exactly . their pushes into shelf labels and into industry monitoring should be enhanced by this. one thing that Sipix excelled at was creating these smaller purpose displays and also being able to add color for broad areas of the signage. for instance one scetion that can change to red for sales or to Red when there is danger/malfunction

Tom August 3, 2012 um 7:19 pm

Well, in terms of progress, there is the 1024×768 6″ Pearl screen that iRiver HD uses (used?). Apparently the firmware for Kindle Touch is ready to use such a screen, if it finds itself so embodied.

Nate Hoffelder August 3, 2012 um 7:25 pm

Except that the higher resolution screen uses the same material as the Pearl E-ink screen, only with a higher resolution backplane. And LG developed the backplane, not E-ink.

But if you want to include screens developed by partners, you could also include Plastic Logic. That also uses the same material as the Pearl E-ink screen, only in that case PL developed their own back plane.

DavidW August 4, 2012 um 7:58 am

I’m glad to see someone else report the lack of innovation in eink in the past two years. Any fans of eink should be worried.

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