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The Rise and Fall of Pixel QI (goodereader.com)
75 points by kozmonaut 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments


This was one technology that just kills me never acheived any market success. I had bought an OLPC through the buy/give program and sent the OLPC to my neice (after I poked around at the device—I was VERY curious about the device).

The part that was truly flooring to me was the screen. It was much faster than e-ink and, for the time, quite high resolution in its grayscale mode.

As I read through this article, it’s like a graveyard of dreams past. Mirasol is another I’d forgotten about that I remember thinking would be ubiquitous.

I was personally hoping for something to come fmor Qualcomm's Mirasol tech.


I also hoped it would bring screens readable in solar light to the market. I still miss it regularly and am always surprised not more people want this!

It looks like it is already solved with just very high brightness on regular screens. Using a flagman phone, I can't remember a single time using it in the past when the sunlight was a problem.

Even in the highest brightness on a recent AMOLED phone, if the sun is shining on it directly (i.e. sun is over your shoulder), you can't see the contents of the screen, in large part due to the reflection on the very shiny screen (which needs to be shiny for maximum brightness). In these circumstances you need to position your phone into your shadow (maybe you do this instinctively and don't notice)

And that says nothing of the battery consumption (pixel qi tech switches off the backlight in 'outdoor' mode so power draw is even less)

I guess it sure seems like there are different usage patterns and some people are really experiencing this still being an issue? I can see how some people might need to be using it really in direct sunlight where reflection can't be tweaked away by rotating the phone just a couple of degrees (which I think I do without even thinking about it).

So you're right, the current screen tech has not completely solved sunlight problem.

I’m more concerned about always having to have a backlight. I guess people just don’t care enough.

For How long can you use you phone in direct sunlight? Mine is readable when it sets itself to full brightness, but that will eat away the battery really fast. A transreflective screen will use less battery in direct sunlight.

The problem is that Amazon has a virtual monopoly on the e-reader market.

If Kindle doesn't adopt a given technology, it won't be commercially viable in the US.

With no competitive market place for e-reader products, consumers buy whatever good enough technology Amazon sells.

There might very well be a high end screen tech that people would pay for, much as how Apple discovered people are willing to pay for higher resolution LCDs on their laptops and smartphones

But without hardware diversity in the e-reader market, that higher price point may never be found, and as such many promising technologies will never have a chance to be further developed and come down in price.

>If Kindle doesn't adopt a given technology, it won't be commercially viable in the US.

For the people who don't buy their e-books from amazon, I think the market is quite competitive. I mean, if you are reading PDFs, unless you like really small type or spending a lot of effort converting, you are going to buy one of the myriad A4 sized e-readers from various vendors. Most of the gutenberg readers I know use an off-brand e-reader if they buy new.

>With no competitive market place for e-reader products, consumers buy whatever good enough technology Amazon sells.

I own a handful of high-end e-readers, many of which run android. How come none of those android devices, for instance, my A4 sized Sony e-reader, run the amazon app available in the play store?

I suspect that it's mostly that the Sony, in spite of being a much better reader for PDFs than my oasis, is simply not a better device for reading books that are formatted for the kindle.

(I'm not saying that there isn't a problem... I'm just saying that the monopoly is almost entirely in the convenience of the kindle book store. Agreements with publishers. And I am claiming that there is much competition for the (much smaller) market for e-readers for content outside the amazon kindle e-book ecosystem)

> For the people who don't buy their e-books from amazon, I think the market is quite competitive.

And tiny. Amazon has by far the largest in the US market, from numbers I just googled and haven't verified, Amazon is 83% of ebook sales in the US, and probably and even larger % if your consider "ebooks read on a digital paper device".

Hardware technologies cost hundreds of millions to develop, and years of active sales to refine and bring prices down. Amazon has a "good enough" tech in their Kindles, so the market is stagnating, outside of some cool stuff like Remarkable, which isn't a new display tech stack, nor are their sales numbers going to support development of new techs.

This might be an anecdote, but I am an avid consumer of e-reader-like products, and me not having bought (even though having had researched thoroughly) any pixel QI products has nothing to do with Kindle. I have bought 8 e-readers during the years and none of them were Kindle. In this year it is so easy to do research about any available products, and order any available products, that it is hard to compete only by brand name.

You talk about price point, but Notion Ink was not even that expensive. If you compare it to other options at the time there was some small premium for the new screen, but it didn't even register for me as a factor when choosing what to buy.

The problem as I see it is: 1) Pixel QI has worse parameters (brightness/contrast levels) in the e-ink mode. The existing screens already have problems with brightness. They don't really look like good ink on good paper, the contrast is lower. This one looked (at least in all the marketing materials) like it has even lower brightness, it would be even harder to read from it. This might have been a quirk of bad marketing? Sure, I don't really care. If they can't show me why the screen would be better, how do they expect me to buy it?

If you buy an e-reader, you want the e-ink mode to be superior, not the other way around. That's the reason you buy the device, for e-ink mode. Pixel QI wanted me to buy an e-ink screen, but sacrificing e-ink experience...

1.2) As a consequence of the screen technology, any Pixel QI device would have a much worse battery time than an e-ink, so that's another advantage of an e-reader gone.

2) There is really no need/ no use cases (for the average consumer, but since we are taking big markets, that's what matters) - for the screen that can do both modes, but does the e-reader mode poorly. Do you want to read in poor lighting conditions? There are alreay e-readers with backlit displays or just lamps... Which is better for the eyes anyway, it's not even that comfortable to read from a brightly lit screen in a dark room.

3) Existing e-ink screen can already be used with for example android and other apps. IT doesn't just have to be books. They are monochrome ofcourse, and you have to be a little finicky in certain apps, and you can't watch videos, but aside from that they are actually quite useful. This is the setup I have right now. I can read books, but also use most other static-screen apps like calendar, browser, audiobook etc.

4) (minor one) The original product with this screen (notion ink) went too heavily on new untested software (they made a completely different type of interface, with completely new workflows, which to me looked really questionable in terms of usability at all - and even if they would show up as being useful - I would not trust such a small company, which already undertakes a huge task of delivering the first Pixel QI product, to also simultaneously focus on creating a new type of interface, supporting it, polishing it, etc. It's not an easy task.) Android was already under way back then, I just wanted an android box!

Basically they tried to position themselves as a "standard ereader killer" ("kindle killer"), but the most annoying feature of Kindle is its closed garden of apps and proprietary formats. And what would be the point of Notion Ink if it would be just another closed garden?

do you know of an e-ink device that runs a fairly standard and up-to-date (google play store compatible) version of android? such a thing would be pretty useful for me.

https://onyxboox.com/ are making some very cool devices, I think most are running Android. It might not be updated by the manufacturer every 6 months (not even many phones do that), but it definitely runs most of the latest apps.

I recommend reading the Onyx forum on Mobileread (https://www.mobileread.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=220) before making any decisions. In particular, the vendor that you buy from will make a big difference in your support experience - Booxtor's store (https://ereader.store/en/) is a good place since they tend to release firmware updates proactively and work on the above forum to troubleshoot issues.

Onyx is an interesting company. Their devices are amazing IMO (e.g. the Boox Max 2) but some of the issues that people encounter has tended to scare me a bit. I still hope to get a 13.3" Android-based e-reader some day.

The particularly cool bit: at least the Boox Max 2 has HDMI input so I can pop it up on my thinkpad as an external monitor (kind of clumsy, needs power too, but I've run emacs on it Just Fine...)

Curious what people's views are on e-readers here at HN? Personally, I've tried to adopt an e-reader over many years. The convenience of having 100s of books without the weight is great. Being able to read in a dark room as well. However, the feel of a real book I think still wins out over any advantages of an e-reader.

Also my informal and anecdotal survey of how people use technology - mainly on the NYC subway - doesn't really bring to mind many people reading on e-readers. It usually a real book.

I have used kindles since the beginning. The only device which competes with it for me is my iPad (1 through 10.5 Pro) running the Kindle app. I actively avoid books not available on Kindle; if I’m forced to read something else I use the iPad to read PDF, pirate the book in PDF, or destroy the book in scanning it (100 books for $100) and then read PDF.

I hate the physical limitations (weight, damage, water) of books. I am indifferent to touch.

I have a kindle. I love it. As a san francisco resident, library support for e-readers means I have a queue of books I've flagged as want-to-read that pop up frequently. Two clicks later - they're on my kindle for free (well - my tax dollars well spent, let's say). I also have old books I've bought on amazon and elsewhere (using calibre software to convert other formats, and there exists drm-removal software if you're worried about losing access to the kindle book).

In short: I usually walk around with my current two or three books that I'm reading, plus several dozen Comfort Books that I could re-read for the Nth time if the mood strikes me, in a very convenient form-factor that doesn't need light.

On the other hand (as other people have said), I read complicated PDFs (usually role-playing game supplements), Comics, and technical books on a phone / laptop / tablet, depending on what's handy. In those cases it's not about the ergonomics of long-term reading, it's about having a responsive color screen.

For a novel that I read in a mostly linear fashion? Love e-readers.

For technical books where I’m using four fingers of my left hand to bookmark four different pages to flip back and forth to? Hate e-readers. They are simply far slower than paper at random access.

For anything where I’d like to appreciate the artistry of the book or its contents? Hate e-readers.

E-readers provide full text search and unlimited bookmarks (usually with notes and/or highlighting). Multiple “finger” bookmarks brings back memories though!

Definitely, however my issue is more one of UX than capability. If I read something 13 pages ago that I didn’t have the foresight to bookmark, paging back in a book is far quicker. And I can do so intuitively, without needing to shift my mental focus into remembering how to summon the bookmarking or search UI.

That said, full text search is the one electronic UX element that I wish paper books had!

So my experience with an e-reader has varied over the years and I had essentially abandoned the idea of an e-reader over the past 5 years. However, I have been in NYC for this summer and riding the subway everyday so I eventually dusted off my Kindle and have loved it! I still think that you are right that a physical book provides a better experience, but the ability to pull out a book hold it in one hand, highlight passages I like, and take notes has been amazing. Not only that but I have enjoyed the fact that once I finish a book I just download a new one and don't have to wait for Amazon or find a bookstore(not that it is difficult to find a bookstore in NYC though). I do believe from my anecdotal survey as well that more people have physical books, but that does not mean that the kindles are nonexistent either I have seen several people with them as well. In reality it is probably closer to 60/40 because the vast majority of people I see on the subway are playing smartphone games or watching Netflix.

I think it's the price for eBooks. A good example is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

Kindle - $15

Paperback (new) - $10

Paperback (used) - $6

Paperback (library) - Free

The Kindle version is a significant premium and I don't think there is a matching convenience factor. It's unfortunate that is the case because I'm sure it'd be a lot more eco-friendly and efficient to distribute ebooks.

I don't know how common this is, but some libraries[1] allow people to check out ebooks (including Kindle ones). I do most of my reading on my Kindle, and it has almost all been free because of it.

[1]: https://nypl.overdrive.com/

That is interesting to me I haven't actually read anything that can be considered a modern best seller on my Kindle, so the books that I generally order are cheaper to get the Kindle version. That being said I do agree with your point if I had to pay more for the Kindle version I would immediately buy the physical book.

I can hold it in one hand or set it on a surface and read while eating, brushing my teeth, holding onto a train etc.

I still love paper books but these situations always make me miss my kindle.

I switched to Nook when they first came out and haven't bought a book since. I did change to Google Play books and standard tables/phones but there is no going back to real paper books (for me).

1) I always have my book with me. Have to wait 15 minutes in a waiting room, take out the phone. At home I have my nice large tablet.

2) Page sync works great. Read 10 pages on tablet and move to phone and it starts off on the correct page. Same when I switch back to the tablet.

3) Buying a new book is super simple and instant. (Note that if traveling internationally, be sure to buy/download extra books from home before you leave as Play may not sell you books if you are abroad. Reading always works.)

4) Free samples keep me from buying books I've already read or don't like.

5) You can import any books you already own and still get all of the above.

The only issue I have with standard tablets/phones is that full daylight reading kills batteries but you still get most of days usage so even this isn't that big of an issue. Not enough to switch back e-paper which is too single purpose for my wants/needs. Sure they are nice for reading by the pool but I can't look up were to eat lunch on it so I still need my phone with me which defeats the purpose.

I currently use a Kobo Aura HD with updated applications to avoid using the Kobo firmware and its associated silliness (e.g. a long refresh process on every power cycle to re-enumerate my entire collection into their sqlite db.) I have gone through a lot of different e-readers [1] but never a Kindle - the walled garden approach is not for me. This means that I buy ebooks in ePub form from Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Google Play, etc. or read converted pdfs of my former print books.

In general, what I have looked for in an e-reader consists of the largest screen that I can afford (since pdfs don't scale well, IME), a micro sd slot to enable me to copy/sync books as I need it without being on the network, some basic functionality to save book markups, and maybe a web browser.

[1] Some examples: Entourage eDGE (sic), Sony Libre, Sony Readers (PRS-500, PRS-505, PRS-300, etc.), Pocketbook 9.7", B&N Nook Simple Touch (still have it, running Android 2.x rooted).

Edit1: more e-readers.

I read fiction every night in bed before going to sleep. I used to read mostly paperbacks, at some point partially switching to an iPad. After getting myself a Kindle Paperwhite (the version with the high-DPI screen) I haven't bought a single paperback nor read a single novel on my iPad. I just vastly prefer the Kindle form factor and worry free usage (cheap, light, plastic) to either the hassle of keeping a book open or worrying about dropping my iPad.

Being able to read in direct sunlight is a nice bonus.

So this is the first I heard of DPL as a GPL equivalent for hardware but it doesn't appear any commercial manufacturers want to get behind it. How feasible is the usage of this technology from a non-commercial/ hobbyist perspective ? It would seem that manufacturing the displays would obviously require an advanced factory so it is probably not realistically something that people without capital and advanced knowledge could iterate on or improve. On a semi-related note does anyone know how one could retrofit a laptop or even raspberry pi to work with one of the still available pixel qi screens. I figure they are missing the interface to HDMI etc and so I've always been curious how one goes about building that sort of interface. I assume it involves a fair amount of electronics engineering and thus not something that could be easily learned by someone with a background mainly in software but perhaps I just don't know or haven't spent enough time researching this.

This reminds me of the questions "back in the day" (2005 and earlier?) before LCD screens becames affordable. Lots of people wanted to know how to repurpose laptop screens as generic monitors when the laptop died.

Unfortunately I think the answer was always "it's complicated, non-standard and not worth it"

Things may have changed since then, I just wanted to share...

These days you can buy the adapters on eBay: https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=hdmi+lcd+controller+boa...

Oh wow, well that's a bit of a change :)

My biggest dream is a big epaper or pixel qi screen to do development on. The bazillion nits is killing my eyes...

Your dreams might have come true, then, with the Dasung Paperlike[1], a 13-inch e-ink monitor. The first generation connected to the PC via USB and special display drivers, but the current generation uses HDMI like a normal monitor.

My girlfriend is quite happy with her second-generation Paperlike Pro. There is apparently now a third generation[2] with higher resolution.

There are some disadvantages (of e-ink in general). It's not fast – the mouse cursor feels laggy, but typing is OK. You might have to tweak various appearance settings to make things look better in black and white – they have software to help with this for Windows, but not for Mac. Lastly, it's not particularly cheap.

[1] http://www.dasungtech.com/

[2] http://dasungtech.com/english/detail/id/223

Thanks for the link! Based on your experience, would it be a good fit for hacking? How does a Emacs/Vi session comes across?

She uses it at work, so I can't check now, but I think it should be OK. It's mainly smooth-scrolling web pages and the mouse cursor that look laggy – things that move continuously pixel by pixel.

Dasung do mention programming as one use case and demonstrate it here: http://www.dasungtech.com/sta/en/type.gif

They say it's "nearly as fast as LCD". It has different modes to choose from, with different trade-offs between speed and image quality. And the new generation might be faster that the one I used.

Third generation kicks ass for terminal work. Wait for 4th gen and Non hardcore gaming will be doable

It sort of exists, if you can manage with some small screen (there is no 22 inch screens like that).

Here is a 13.3 inch e-reader which you can also setup as a secondary screen (HDMI input), and connect to any computer as an extra screen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1J3oemOfPlk or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCnPMKvXWas So you are getting both a fully-fledged e-reader and an extra screen.

An Android based e-reader no less, the form factor is wild and the price point is super high but damn, this is cool.

I think it was a mistake for them to market it as e-paper because it's clearly not as good as e-ink for the purpose "e-paper" evokes - reading books.

As a daylight-readable LCD it looks like it was great, but I guess not that many people need that.

I bought a Notion Ink Adam back when it came out and while other complained about the faint colors, I was pretty happy when I had no problem reading at the beach :-D

I wish they would have developed a Pixel Qi version with a AMOLED (not sure if that is possible), as that way we could have nice colors combined with a readable screen in bright sunlight. I still want to have a Pixel Qi screen for my smartphone every single time the sun is so bright that I have trouble reading anything on it.

Until now, I was wondering what happen to the technology. It is just sad, that they weren't able to make the whole thing an economical success.

I would kill for a Pixel QI panel for my ThinkPad, I could program outdoors and escape the open plan office for a bit.

>If you look at your average paratrooper or ranger they are constantly receiving revised mission parameters and in harsh conditions like a dessert


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