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Wistron Folds Up Polymer Vision – Collapsible eReaders Are Once Again Science Fiction

EDIT: This post combines several articles about Wistron, a company that (for a while) almost made ereaders.

The Readius was one of those impossibly cool gadgets which, in spite of enthusiastic support from tech bloggers such as myself, was never quite able to make the leap from concept to production model. And now thanks to its parent company deciding to turn off the lights at the device developer Polymer Vision, it never will.

The Readius was one of those impossibly cool gadgets which, in spite of enthusiastic support from tech bloggers such as myself, was never quite able to make the leap from concept to production model. And now thanks to its parent company deciding to turn off the lights at the device developer Polymer Vision, it never will.+Plastic Electronics reported last week that Wistron, the Taiwanese manufacturer which bought a bankrupt Polymer Vision in 2009, is shutting it down. This story has been confirmed by the former CTO of Polymer Vision, Edzer Huitema, though he was not able to provide further details.

A protoptype from 2005

Polymer Vision was originally launched by Phillips Electronics in 2004, and in 2007 it was spun off from the Philips Technology Incubator. PV received a €21 million capital injection from Luxembourg based Technology Capital Group, and set out to make a smartphone with a 5″ foldable E-ink screen.

This was the pre-Kindle, pre-iPhone era, so you can imagine how novel the idea was. Few smartphones had a screen larger than 3″or so,  so a small device which unfolded to reveal a large screen had an instant appeal to many gadget nuts.

Anyone with a smartphone knows that there is a compromise between a device which is small enough to fit in a pocket while still being large enough to have a decent screen size.

At least, there used to be a compromise. Now that everyone seems comfortable with carrying around phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note with its 5.5″ screen, there is little reason to develop a foldable E-ink screen.

And what with all the 6″ ereaders which now use a high-resolution flexible E-ink screen on cheap and pocketable devices, PV’s research is both antiquated likely too expensive to manufacture.

Polymer Vision had planned to release the Readius in 2008, and had even gotten to the point of signing up Telecom Italia as a customer and reportedly making an initial production run of 100,000 units. Tanother production run was planned for 2009, but it was canceled when PV was unable to raise another round of financing.

It seems that the 2009 financing failed due to one of the investor’s involvement money laundering or Ponzi scheme. In any case Wistron bought PV out of receivership for €13 million.

Wistron is a major Chinese OEMs (along with quanta and Foxconn), and while their brands aren’t on many products you have likely used a device they made for another company, Kobo, for example, paid Wistron to make the Kobo Touch and Kobo Vox (and probably all their other gadgets).

They had been continuing to fund research for the past 3 years and so far as I know they did intend to release a new Readius-like device.  But the last I heard about that was in May of 2011, when PV teased us with a product render showing the device they wanted to build.

One of my contacts used to have fairly good ties to PV, and I’m told they have not shown off any physical  prototypes, though they have made at least a couple prototypes for each of the concept images they have released.

The Readius eReader Lives!

A novel ereader, long thought dead, has risen from the grave.

Polymer Vision, a Philips spin-off, unveiled the Readius back in 2008 (at right). This was a truly unique  device with a 5″ folding E-ink screen. Unfortunately the company lost their funding in 2009 when one of the main investors got caught up in a Ponzi scheme.

The Readius showed up in a couple places in 2008, including MWC 2008, before the company died.

Polymer Vision was bought out of bankruptcy by Wistron, and they continued to develop the screen. Of course, by the time Wistron bought PV the original design was out of date. So the PV team started working on a new design with a better screen.

I’ve been getting "we’re not dead yet" updates for 18 months now, and I can finally show you the new design.

Below is the artist rendition of the new Polymer Vision Readius. There’s no word yet on when it will be released, but at least we know it’s still under development. Notice that it folds up into a cell phone and then expands into 2 different screen sizes.


Wistron to make e-readers for Hong Kong publisher

Digitimes is reporting:

Wistron is cooperating with a Hong Kong-based publisher to tap China’s e-book market, and plans to launch a 6-inch e-book reader in June 2010, according to industry sources.

The e-book reader will use grey-scale EPD from SiPix – a subsidiary of AU Optronics (AUO) – and run on Android, the sources noted, adding that the product will be sold at 2,980 yuan (US$436.27).

Wistron will provide both hardware and software solutions, while the publisher will provide content, the sources said.

Why is everyone watching Wistron? It’s because they bought Polymer Vision out of bankruptcy, and thus own the flexible screen tech that the Polymer Vision Readius was based on. We’re all hoping that they will release an ereader based on it.

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Polymer Vision demonstrates a rollable E Ink display – Liliputing December 2, 2012 um 10:09 am

[…] Update: Now there’s word… and the word is never. […]

Mike Cane December 2, 2012 um 10:17 am

I always thought this was a dumb idea to begin with. Flexing anything will eventually cause it to break. This would have been the shortest-lived screen of them all.

Nate Hoffelder December 2, 2012 um 3:39 pm

Dumb idea or not, I wanted one.

Mike Cane December 3, 2012 um 5:48 pm

Barnum was right.

Luqman December 2, 2012 um 10:10 pm

Which of the current line up of 6 inch readers has a flexible (presumably plastic-backed) screen? I might have to pick up one to replace my Kobo Touch when it dies.

Nate Hoffelder December 2, 2012 um 10:58 pm

Kobo Glo, Kindle Paperwhite, the new Bookeen ereader, and the new i62HD Firefly from Onyx all use the plastic backed E-ink screen developed by LG Display.

No, you can’t fold any of the screens up, but isn’t it interesting that all of the device makers passed up that opportunity? That would suggest they didn’t see any value in a collapsible ereader.

Tom December 3, 2012 um 3:14 am

Nate, you’re wrong here. None of these readers have a plastic backplane. The only reader with a flexible backplane is the Wexler… but that one is exclusively for Russia.

Nate Hoffelder December 3, 2012 um 7:08 am

I could well be wrong, but no one else has announced a higher resolution E-ink screen. Or have I missed something?

If E-ink had developed a better backplane don’t you think they would have announced it? It is not mentioned on their website. Or do you think all the new ereaders are using last year’s HD screen from LG Display?

In any case, I reached out to E-ink for clarification. I’ll post their response.

Tom December 3, 2012 um 10:12 am

I see where the confusion might come from. Kobo is advertising an outright LIE on their website, where they state that their display in the Glo is NOT made of glass… which it clearly is. A Kobo rep. has stated this on the forum:

Both the Amazon Paperwhite and Kobo Glo are listed in the "Customer Showcase" on the E-Ink website:

I’m guessing LG is only supplying iRiver and the other Korean ereader manufacturer (NextPapyrus)?

Nate Hoffelder December 3, 2012 um 10:40 am

Okay, but elsewhere on the E-ink site they list the screen resolutions which E-ink can provide. The new HD screen is not mentioned. This suggests that the higher resolution backplane was developed elsewhere.

And BTW, the iriver Story HD is mentioned on the E-ink website. That device most certainly has the LG backplane (with the Pearl E-ink screen mounted on it), so I would argue that the origin of the screens on the kPW is less than certain.

Tyler December 3, 2012 um 5:31 pm

It’s listed on the eink site in the link he has above.

Size Resolution Touch Technology
5″ 800 x 600 n/a
6″ SVGA 800 x 600 Digitizer
6″ SVGA 800 x 600 Capacitive
9.7″ 1200 x 825 n/a
9.7″ 1200 x 825 Digitizer
9.7″ 1600 x 1200 n/a
9.7″ 2400 x 1650 n/a

Nate Hoffelder December 3, 2012 um 5:34 pm

The 6″ screen with 1024×758 screen resolution is listed? I do not see it.

Nate Hoffelder December 3, 2012 um 5:41 pm

I have heard back from E-ink and you are correct. The HD E-ink screen on the KPW and most other new ereaders is glass and comes from E-ink. They made the higher resolution screen themselves and sell it to Kobo, Amazon, and others.

I’ve asked them to update their website.

Tyler December 3, 2012 um 6:48 pm

I wanted a flexible screen e reader so I can have the ultimate e reader. The beer glass e reader.

Name Required December 2, 2012 um 11:20 pm

Congratulations Nate.

You have been Slashdotted.

Paul December 3, 2012 um 9:17 pm

If you look at old episodes of babylon 5 (from 1992-98), you’ll see a similar device used in the show. Of course it was fake but it amazed me how closely this device resembled it.

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