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Upcoming Technologies that Will Kill the Kindle, and Other Nonsense

The recent news of ClearInk’s potentially useful screen tech winning best in show at SID Display Week has inspired one blogger to proclaim that it is going to revolutionize everything.

Writing over at MakeUseOf, Kannon Yamada spouted:

Thinking of buying an e-reader? Hit the brakes. Two near-future technologies make today’s products obsolete in 2018. And they’re a big deal.

Technology changes. Unlike smartphones, e-reader technological progress occurs at a glacial pace. Incremental refinements to e-paper screens — known as E Ink — release every three years. Updates to the guts of the device (the processor) occur even less frequently.

That means major technological innovation occurs so rarely that when it does reach devices, it’s a very big deal. And two major inventions to e-readers will release sometime between 2017 and 2018.

Of the two innovations, the biggest is a new e-paper display: CLEARink. CLEARink comes in two versions. The first, CLEARink “video,” releases at the tail end of 2017. The second, CLEARink “bistable,” may release in 2018 and targets digital signage, e-readers, and more.

The rest of the piece reads like a MakeUseOf was paid to publish it; it gushes about how the tech works, and frankly doesn’t have to be repeated here.

And that’s because it is worthless twaddle.

The second half of the piece, for example, focuses on how Freescale’s next-gen IMX.7 CPU is a Kindle killer because it is so awesome. (Yes, apparently the MakeUseOf  blogger was unaware that CPUs go into ereaders; they do not kill ereaders.)

I am skipping over the Freescale IMX.7 because, frankly, if it were that amaze-balls then we would already see it in ereaders. It was announced in 2015 and went into production last spring, and yet ereader makers like Pocketbook, Onyx, and Netronix are going with the older IMX.6 chip or multi-core chips from other chipmakers.

Instead, I want to focus on the premise that ClearInk is a Kindle-killer display.

This argument is being made in the absence of: a firm release date, a device manufacturing partner, a prototype unit, or a ship date for the production unit.

There is exactly nothing to back up the idea that this tech will be as useful, cheap, or innovative as they claim.

Furthermore, we already have a Kindle killer – two of them, in fact.

It’s called tablets and smartphones.

Between one and the other, the ereader market has already been killed. It’s a fraction of the size it was five years ago, and the industry has been winnowed down to just Amazon and three companies (the aforementioned Pocketbook, Onyx, and Netronix).

So we already have a Kindle killer; it’s called a tablet, and Amazon makes a bunch.

Could ClearInk prove to be an LCD killer, as Chris Meadows argues over on Teleread?

Not with the current standard of tablets and smartphones with either expensive/beautiful or cheap/adequate screens, no.

On the one end of the market, ClearInk can’t compete with the quality of high-end OLED and AMOLED screens, and on the the other end it has to compete with dirt-cheap LCD screens.

Speaking of which, did you know that no company that produces LCD screens makes money off of them? That’s how cheap prices have gotten.

ClearInk would have to sell their screens at a loss to get into the mobile device market, and that just isn’t going to happen.

That’s why the company is going to focus on other markets – if their screen tech ships at all.


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Chris Meadows July 29, 2017 um 5:40 pm

It rather depends on your definition of "adequate". LCD screens do have the drawback that they can’t be read very easily in direct sunlight. If this CLEARink thing is a cheap reflective screen that’s close to LCD in terms of performance, and can be manufactured with the existing LCD process, who knows what might happen?

roberto July 30, 2017 um 4:57 am

I think the more interesting direction will be wearable, flexible screens – for both, e-ink and oled. The latter is already in production and will surely be comin' in the next couple of months and years ahead, while the first is problably too dificult or too expensive to have, at least at the moment.

user July 30, 2017 um 5:42 am

As everybody knows Freescale for past several years was and still is in ownership transition. Due to this uncertainty Sony used Marvell quad core chip which is miles ahead of all these Pocketbook, Onyx, and Netronix devices from Gina. They are all happy using 10 year old technology.

Irene July 30, 2017 um 6:32 am

Will the kindle still work and how much are these new ones going to cost.

Allen F July 30, 2017 um 10:45 am

Just more ADS. Amazon looks to be on top so anything coming out has to be able to knock Amazon off its top perch.

As Nate said, there are lots of ways to read ebooks (I still use my desktop computer for a lot of my reading at home,) nothing is going to 'kill' them no matter how much they’d like to.

Until they actually have something to 'buy' this is vaporware as it’s called, a lot of sound and fury signifying not a dang thing.

Kannon July 30, 2017 um 12:00 pm

Hi Nate, thanks for reading! I’m a long time reader of your site so it’s with great pleasure to see my content featured here.

I’m a little sad to have earned your ire, though. It seems that you disagree with my completely un-skeptical take on CLEARink. Of course, you have good reason to be skeptical. After all, we haven’t seen a new reflective display technology since E Ink — but we have seen dozens of e-paper displays never get released or fail shortly after release. But EVERY SINGLE ONE of those technologies suffered from a crippling issue: they were either super expensive or they looked bad (or both). CLEARink is the first reflective tech that is cost-effective and looks good. I don’t believe you’ve really addressed either point other than mentioning in comments that if it really were that good Apple or Samsung would have adopted it. That reasoning is slightly fallacious (but still makes a good point). Why didn’t either company try to acquire E Ink or lock down OLED technology? It would seem that large companies do not always buy out the technologies used in their products.

As an aside, have you noticed that Michael has been relatively silent on CLEARink? Michael is usually hyperbolic about new technologies (even more so than I). I suspect that he is probably looking into CLEARink for his own purposes. 🙂

Disgusting dude July 30, 2017 um 3:16 pm

The point Nate is addressing is that current display technology has reached a point where the technical merit of a new tech is secondary to its economics. That is why Plasma died, why SED never got anywhere, and why none of the "magical" reflective color technologies has reached market.
It is also why eInk has essentially stagnated. The company doesn’t make enough money to fund R&D and retooling for new products. Most of their newer formats have been co-funded by the vendor. That is why Amazon and Sony had an effective monopoly on early Pearl screens, why Amazon gets first dibs on Carta improvements, why Kobo was exclusive on the first HD screens, why Sony had a lock on the plastic substrate screens.
Any new tech has to be better *and* cheaper than the existing tech *at launch*. New tech almost invariably launches with yield issues and over time ramps up to profitability. Somebody has to foot the bill for rampup. Either the manufacturer, the vendor using it, or consumers willing to pay extra.
In today’s display markets nobody can afford to bleed any more than the already are. Not the manufacturers, not the vendors, and not consumers. Note how its been a decade and more and OLED TVs are still low volume high-priced "flagships". And then consider the pushback Amazon gets over the pricing of their premium models. And those sell for less than the first kindle.

It’s a different time.
If the tech was introduced today it might, might, be market ready by 2025 after much blood sweat and moolah. 2018?
Only if it’s going to go the way of Mirasol.

Kannon July 30, 2017 um 4:24 pm

Thanks for the great reply! Unfortunately, I cannot address all the points that you’ve brought up. A few of these I do have an answer to:

Sri addressed some of the issues that you’ve mentioned: regarding scale, CLEARink mostly fits into the LCD manufacturing process, so it shouldn’t be difficult to get the production cost down. Regarding yield, I failed to ask about this and unfortunately do not know how efficient their current manufacturing process is. But because they already have a manufacturing partner and are moving into mass production, my best guess is that it is viable. Perhaps the bottom might come out from underneath them during mass production though. The issue is that this is all single source and I was unable to find a corroborating source. So, yes, according to CLEARink Displays, they will have a product on the market in late 2017 and early 2018. We’ll see whether or not that proves true.

Disgusting dude July 31, 2017 um 8:20 am

The *technology* is viable.
But is the resulting *product* viable?
Mirasol tech works.
The product built off it was DOA.

The market chooses based on cost/benefit not tech virtues.

Nate Hoffelder July 31, 2017 um 8:24 am

how I wish you had reached out to me by email.

I would have told you that ClearInk isn’t the first new reflective screen tech after a string of failures. This type of screen is used in a number of markets: smartwatches (see Pebble’s screen – made by Sharp), shelf labels, and embedded electronics. They are being made, just not for mobile consumer electronics.

I would have told you about the ereader market decline.

And this:

CLEARink is the first reflective tech that is cost-effective and looks good. I don’t believe you’ve really addressed either point other than mentioning in comments that if it really were that good Apple or Samsung would have adopted it. That reasoning is slightly fallacious (but still makes a good point). Why didn’t either company try to acquire E Ink or lock down OLED technology?

I would have told you that you are putting too much weight in marketing claims that the ClearInk production units will look good or be cheap to make. We don’t know either is true.

And as for why Samsung or Apple didn’t buy E-ink, I would have told you that Samsung did make E-ink screens once. They stopped in 2011 or thereabouts.

I would have also told you that Samsung used to own Liquavista, a reflective screen tech designed with the same goal as ClearInk (but using very different tech). Samsung sold Liquavista to Amazon in 2012 after Samsung figured out how to make its LCD and OLED screens much more energy efficient.

Once Samsung no longer had to sacrifice screen quality for battery life, they didn’t care about alternative screen tech any more.

And where Samsung goes, the rest of the market follows.

Kannon July 31, 2017 um 11:54 am

In the future, it would be a pleasure to interview you by email or Facebook, if you are willing. Of course, that would mean backlinks.

Anyway, we are, in a sense, doing an interview right now.

The article covered some of your concerns. To refresh: so the issue with the MIP display used in the Pebble Time, the interferometric display used in Mirasol, and the apparent issue with Liquavista was (or is) either cost or appearance.

MIP uses a bit of RAM in every pixel, which made it very expensive to manufacture. IMD’s monochrome and color models didn’t look very good and/or cost a fortune. Liquavista appears to not be going anywhere even though they have been hiring and appear to be in early manufacturing trials. So I would guess that either their backplane technology has failed or cost/appearance issues.

Your primary (and very powerful) assertion appears to be that CLEARink Displays hasn’t been completely honest about the contrast ratio (appearance) and the production costs of CLEARink. Would you mind if I added your assertion to my article?

Forgive my waffling around the point of OLED displays. I was trying to make a general argument that when "superior" display technologies release, we don’t see large corporations getting monopolies. So if a display tech really were that good (OLED), why doesn’t Apple or Samsung get a monopoly on it? Apple doesn’t even use OLED displays and Samsung is a powerful player in the OLED industry, but hardly controls that market.

That’s not to say that the e-reader market competes with the LCD market. They do to some extent, but it would seem that some people buy dedicated e-readers in order to avoid reading on an LCD or OLED screen. Within that particular market niche, my assertion is that IF CLEARink technology really is cheaper and better looking, it poses a serious threat to E Ink. Is it fair to say that your argument is that:

* CLEARink isn’t a threat because other e-paper technologies have failed

* CLEARink may be lying about its economic viability and display appearance

* The e-reader market is stagnant and there’s no room for additional display technologies

Disgusting dude July 31, 2017 um 12:15 pm

It is not ereaders as market that has the economic issues.
It is displays in general. At all levels, all markets.
There is simply an enormous global overcapacity in LCD production that is flooding all markets with cheap displays and starving the would-be competitors.
Clearink may he telling the truth.
Their tech might even be the best thing since sliced bread.

One. More. Time:
The *product* has to be significantly better *AND* significantly cheaper at the consumer level. eReaders are a mature market that meets the needs of consumers just fine. Online bloggers might care about the underlying tech but consumers by and large don’t. They just want to read.

Throwing marginally better displays into the mix isn’t going to excite anybody. Now, throw in a 10X better battery so a reader can go 400 reading hours between charges and you’ll see how "stagnant" the market isn’t.

Benefits, not features.

The question you need to ask is "What consumer need does the new tech answer that can’t be addressed with existing tech?"

Are clearink screens unbreakable? So you could build a reader for a three year old? Are they foldable? Or can they be rolled up like a Global™?

What product can they enable that can’t exist without it?

That’s a high bar.
But in a world of excess LCD capacity that is the bar to entry.

Kannon July 31, 2017 um 1:07 pm

You make an excellent point. My reply perhaps is not as expansive or clever in its construction. But I believe CLEARink may have a toehold. Here’s why:

That ignores the incremental technological progression that we saw in the LCD world. We went from TN to IPS displays at a granular level. Something similar might occur within the e-paper space. The thing is, we haven’t seen progression on that scale. The technical differences between the 1st gen and 3rd/4th gen E Ink panels are minor.

Here’s the thing: both in LCD and OLED we’ve seen successive waves of incremental technological improvement. E Paper (specifically electrophoretic) is bound to see similar incremental progression. As of today, we have seen very little in the way of progress.

If what you write is true, OLED panels would never have taken off because the market is flooded with much cheaper LCD panels. Even so, consumers seem to be demanding OLED. So much in fact, that despite similar production costs, demand for OLED allows for much higher prices. (OLED costs have fluctuated between cheaper and more expensive from 2016 to 2017.)

But anyway, the niche that’s lacking may be for readers who want color and video.

Nate Hoffelder July 31, 2017 um 3:54 pm

OLEDs took off because they are prettier than LCDs:

They won the high end of the market (or at least contested that end of the market). That is how they did something better than LCDs.

As for readers wanting video and color, we have tablets and smartphones.But given the general failure of the ebook app and enhanced ebook startups, you can’t really claim that readers want that type of content.

Seanzo February 26, 2018 um 6:39 pm

I believe there is room for untapped benefit. Admittedly the only apparent growth areas are ereaders and the hole the pebble watch left with its departure.

For ereaders your niche is likely magazines and textbooks. The benefits for magazines is clear, while textbooks are helpful when color coding is beneficial. Computer Science courses in particular and the prevalence of red-letter Bibles come to mind.

The reason people liked the pebble so much, which isn’t apparent in a display store, is that it accomplished the same core features with 5 times the battery life. Which made vibration alerts more dependable by permitting one to leave their watch on consistently(no need to regularly take the watch off to charge). The ability to leave the watch on constantly(no blackout screensaver) and the ability to read in broad daylight only reinforced a smartwatches core feature sets.

Nate Hoffelder July 31, 2017 um 4:24 pm

"the MIP display used in the Pebble Time"

Whoops, I was thinking of the original Pebble which had a Sharp reflective LCD screen. I had forgotten about the JDI-supplied screens on the later models.

Vicente July 30, 2017 um 12:34 pm

One issue I would adress: is e-ink reflective technology less agresive to eyes than LCD, OLED or others that emits light? I know it’s a controversial point, but for me it is important and maybe for everyone who works with screens and in your leisure time want to read a lot.

Allen F July 30, 2017 um 3:41 pm

Now you have to define 'less aggressive'.

I still like reading on my netbook, but can’t when I’m in too bright an area. That’s where the e-inks shine, wherever you could read a paper book you can read them. One advantage over paper it being able to change the font size for my ageing eyes.

Current limits to e-ink are refresh rate and resolution/color, both of which would then eat into your battery life.

The first step for any 'e-ink killer' will be for them to carry it out of the lab and into the sunlight and still be able to read it.

Frank August 1, 2017 um 4:02 pm

I believe "less aggressive" is a personal feeling on a screen’s tech. I think E Ink screens are less taxing on the eyes than LCD but I know of zero scientific studies on E Ink’s effects on eyes.

rur July 30, 2017 um 7:22 pm

I read mostly on tablets, some on phone & notebooks, rarely on old kindle and then mostly outdoors. I would like to see a killer.

tired July 31, 2017 um 8:05 am

I think that the truth will prove to be somewhere in between the naive enthusiasm of the original article and the unwarranted cynicism of this article.

Eink has never looked great, let’s just admit it. It has low contrast, is very slow to refresh, and has not been updated in years. But tablets are not killing ereaders. I see ereaders in the wild but almost never tablets. The real reason that ereaders have fallen in popularity is that phones are larger and the novelty of eink wore off faster than the tech was improved.

I think that a new and significantly better screen tech could revitalize the industry. But I don’t think that it will ever reach the popularity that it had several years ago.

Marvin Waschke July 31, 2017 um 6:00 pm

I’ll leave the display discussion alone. Some very good points have been made on it, but I will address the processor issue.

I think the biggest challenge for eReader design and development is that no one has figured out how to make good use of increasing processing power.

The latest Kindle has a better display than the first 2007 version, more storage, better ergonomics, better battery behavior, but the basic functionality has not improved. It is still hard to navigate with the freedom one experiences with a paper book. You would think that marvelous things could be done with abundant processor cycles and memory, but I don’t see much happening. For example, why hasn’t someone figured out how to use to produce a skim mode that whizzes through the pages using AI to highlight key words and phrases, slowing down in the dense spots and speeding up through the fluff? Tailored to my profile of interests?

I don’t pretend to be plugged in to eReader development, but I have been disappointed that the only thing that improves is the displays and the externals. Is it lack of competition? Lack of interest? Or what?

hayden July 31, 2017 um 9:34 pm

I always think that the reason there is not much development on ereaders is because of DRM and/or consumer’s who are happy to be buying their books from only one source.

Many people buy their books through one retailer and use that retailer’s ereader or app.

My point here is, if there was this amazing ereader, with a fantastic screen, instant page refresh, a million software features, battery life of one year, etc, would it sell in huge numbers? The answer is yes if it is tied in to a big retailer but no if it is a standalone company.

DRM prevents us from using an ereader or ebook app that is not an official app from the company that sold the ebook. Also buying the book from one retailer may also restrict the format in which the ebook is made.

Yes, there are ways to strip DRM or change the format of the ebook but the vast majority of people do not make the effort to do it. This limits the number of potential buyers of any new ereader.

If anyone did make this amazing ereader that had apps for each ebook distributor then it would sell. Imagine if your Kindle could also legally have ibooks, nook books, Kobo, etc, that would be amazing. However, I cannot see Amazon (or any other major retailer) giving away apps for competing ereaders. If they did, then they would be getting into an arms race of new and better ereaders. The development costs would eat away at their profits.

It is much easier and profitable to keep their ereaders growing with only small incremental improvements and locking in customers.

Any new screen technology company that produces a better screen does so in the hope that an Amazon type company will buy them out or their technology. They have no chance on producing mass market ereaders on their own.

Nate Hoffelder August 1, 2017 um 7:47 am

It’s not DRM per se so much as platform and convenience. People can buy ebooks from a second store but they usually do not because its easier to just stick with the one store.

The whole idea behind Adobe DE DRM (and earlier ebook DRM like Mobipocket, MSReader, etc) was that it would encourage buying from multiple stores. What they failed to realize was that it’s just too much work to buy from that second store and transfer ebooks to a device. This is why Amazon made the Kindle so easy to use.

Paul Biba’s eBook, eLibrary, eMuseum and ePublishing news compilation for week ending Friday, August 4 | The Digital Reader August 5, 2017 um 9:40 am

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