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Amazon is Going to Use Custom Screens and CPUs in Future Kindles, Might be Buying Liquavista

kindle-fire-hd-teardown-ifixit[1]Do you recall the story about the Kindle hiring spree from a couple weeks ago? Amazon was (and is) hiring a lot of new people to develop more Kindle products, but they were also hiring all sorts of corporate positions as well with the apparent goal of building up Lab126 so it could stand on its own 2 feet.

That was an interesting piece of news, but it’s dwarfed by the information I just uncovered today. Amazon is not only developing new consumer products; they are also developing original components to put in their next Kindle hardware.

Earlier today a confidential source tipped me to a rather interesting connection on LinkedIn. I cannot see the connection myself, but I was told that Tony Slack, the CTO at Liquavista, was now directly connected to Carolin Fischer. She’s the HR Manager for Mergers and Acquisitions at Amazon. That raises some interesting questions does it not?

Could this be a sign that Amazon is investing in Liquavista?

Liquavista is a screen tech company owned by Samsung which is working on a replacement for LCDs. Their tech is going to have the same color qualities as LCDs while also using low-power. They’ve been working on it for 8 years now but have yet to release a product to the market. That was supposed to have happened in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Amazon could be looking at Liquavista for screens for the next Kindle hardware.

Yes, but it could also simply mean that those folks spoke briefly at some trade show and later connected on LinkedIn. That happens a lot and is in fact much more likely to be true. And given that I have not found any other connection I’m not going to get too excited about the possibilities.

Besides, I found something just as interesting. I might not be able to show that Amazon is working with Liquavista, but I can show that there is a high probability that Amazon is developing their own screen tech and CPUs.

I was rooting around on LinkedIn, looking at Lab126 employees and I found a couple recent hires that tell me a lot about Amazon’s hardware plans.

I might not be able to show a connection between Amazon and Liquavista, but I did find the profile of Jerry Chung. He’s been the manager for display hardware at Lab126 since May 2012, and before that he was a manager at Pixel Qi, Apple (he managed screen tech development), and Sipix.

And then there is Siamack Haghighi. He’s a system and chip architect at Lab126, and before Amazon hired him in June 2012 he held similar positions at other companies.

There are over 1,000 Lab126 employees on Linkedin, and I’m sure that if I looked through all the profiles I would find other profiles which confirmed my conclusions. But I’m not sure it’s necessary.

Amazon has screen tech people. They have chip designers.

Those are pretty good signs that Amazon is working on custom components for their next generation Kindle hardware. They’ve moved beyond simply designing the device to designing the components that go into it.

On a related note, I think we now know why Amazon hasn’t bought Texas Instruments' Omaps CPU division. It was widely rumored in October 2012 that Amazon was interested in picking up the division, which TI had planned to simply shut down.

Three months later that deal still has not happened and today I think I found out why.  Amazon already has their own chip people in house working on the chips Amazon plans to use in the next Kindle hardware. They might not see a need to take on an entire development team whose attention was divided among several different TI customers.

And given that in November TI laid off 1,700 people from the Omaps division, I would bet at this point Amazon could simply hire the folks they wanted rather than buy the entire division.

We could also look at that lay off as confirmation of a sort. Amazon might be one of the ex-TI customers which are developing their own chips, so TI isn’t keeping the staff around anymore.

In any case, the next Kindle hardware is likely going to surprise us.

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Mike Cane January 17, 2013 um 12:32 pm

Hmph, Liquavista owned by Samsung. Amazon going to compete in screens against Samsung, LG, and Sony? Screens are a commodity. Just look how fast TV LCD prices plummeted. This could be nothing but a strategic move against Apple investing a ton of money into Sharp for their IGZO screens.

As for CPUs, everyone is in a race for the best ARM-based platform. The web has separated everyone from Intel and even Facebook has blessed ARM servers:

People have X number of dollars. I hate to see things devolve into one market leader and one market follower, but the current situation of everyone making a tablet is just unsustainable from the viewpoint of people’s wallets. We haven’t yet seen that happen with phones — and it’s interesting you never brought up phones — but someday that will change too, when someone gets desperate enough to sell their unlocked phones direct for a hell of a lot less than current prices that have bleed-carriers margins built into them. A Galaxy Note II could probably go for no more than $250 and be profitable, direct. (Yes, I know Google tried with the Nexus, but we haven’t seen pre-pay phone service ascend as we have in the past year alone.)

fjtorres January 17, 2013 um 4:34 pm

Well, it’s been reported that Amazon helped fund the Pearl eink manufacturing facility in exchange for first dibs on the screens and that is a game that Apple plays all the time (most recently investing in Shharp’s INZO process) so it would not be strange if Amazon had a deal simmering with Samsung for Liquavista screens for a color reader.

As for LAB126’s staff capabilities, being able to design your own components doesn’t require actually owning the matching manufacturing facilities; it could be a matter of being able to specify your products features down to component traits. Again, Apple does it all the time.

And, given that there is a whole lot of excess LCD manufacturing capacity and the need for specialized products for different emerging product categories, maybe some of the LCD manufacturers are looking to go "foundry" by offering customers a variety of resolutions, sizes, and even processes so they can custom design the display the same way they can custom design the semiconductor side.

Maybe the next step in contract manufacturing is to go from customer-specified products to customer-specified components. That could lead to a whole new level of product differentiation.

We’re seeing a lot of odd sizes and resolutions for tablets of late, a sign that vendors are no longer focusing on a handful of standard sizes and forcing their customers to pick among them. (That is where the 7in tablet size came from; repurposed portabe DVD-player screens. Nobody did any kind of study to determine the optimum size for a compact tablet, they just built what they could with available screens. Now that the market for tablets is established the designers are belatedly looking for the optimum balance of screen size, weight, portability, and battery life. When the dust settles it just might be that 6in and 8in are a better experience than 7in.

Nate Hoffelder January 17, 2013 um 6:05 pm

"As for LAB126?s staff capabilities, being able to design your own components doesn’t require actually owning the matching manufacturing facilities; it could be a matter of being able to specify your products features down to component traits. Again, Apple does it all the time."

Hardly anyone owns their own CPU production facilities anymore. I know Marvell doesn’t and I’d bet the the same applies to other CPU makers.

Mike Cane January 17, 2013 um 6:28 pm

>>>That is where the 7in tablet size came from; repurposed portabe DVD-player screens.

DVD players had 1024 x 600 screens (Samsung Galaxy Tab 1.0)? Or are you talking about the craptab defaults, like 800×600?

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