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Ask HN: Why are e-ink note-taking devices so expensive compared to iPads?
334 points by behnamoh 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 259 comments
Looking at decent e-ink devices to write notes on, I cannot understand why they're so expensive. For the price of a remarkable 2, for instance, you could buy an iPad which supports note-taking, and much more.

I know there are some advantages to e-ink displays, but I don't think that's enough to justify the high price tag on these readers/note-taking devices.

There's also hidden costs involved, such as buying new tips for the e-ink pencils.

Has the e-ink industry reached a dead-end where patents are impeding progress, or are there other reasons involved?




Throaway to not get sued.

E-ink, the company, holds the patents of the pigment core tech that makes "paper-like" displays possible and strongarms the display manufacturers and the users of their displays to absolute silence. Any research project or startup that comes up with a better alternative technology gets bought out or buried by their lawyers ASAP.

E-ink don't make the display themselves, they make the e-ink film, filled with their patented pigment particles and sell it to display manufacturers who package the film in glass and a TFT layer and add a driver interface chip, all of which are proprietary AF and unless you're the size of Amazon, forget about getting any detailed datasheets about how to correctly drive their displays to get sharp images.

In my previous company we had to reverse engineer their waveforms in order to build usable products even though we were buying quite a lot of displays.

With so much control over the IP and the entire supply chain and due to the broken nature of the patent system, they're an absolute monopoly and have no incentive to lower prices or to bring any innovations to the market and are a textbook example of what happens to technology when there is zero competition.

So, when you see the high prices of e-paper gadgets, don't blame the manufacturers, as they're not price gouging, blame E-ink, as their displays make up the bulk of the BOM.

Tough, some of their tech is pretty dope. One day E-ink sent over a 32" 1440p prototype panel with 32 shades of B&W to show off. My God, was the picture gorgeous and sharp. I would have loved to have it as a PC monitor so I tried building an HDMI interface controller for it with an FPGA but failed due to a lack of time and documentation. Shame, although not a big loss as an estimated cost for that was near the five figure ballpark and the current consumption was astronomical, sometimes triggering the protection of the power supply on certain images.


Have you heard of Clearink? [1] They are using a different technology which appears to be superior. One can hope they will be reaching market soon.

https://clearinkdisplays.com/


I had never heard of Clearink before but, damn, their tech does look quite impressive[0]! I would LOVE to see a ReMarkable with such a screen!

At @4:08 the company representative says

> Our current schedule is to bring gen-1 productions to the market in 2020

Well, I guess I'll be crossing my fingers that it'll happen as soon as this pandemic over.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjJ2-cdhwMQ


All these product shots look fake and I don't see any specifications, just vague claims. I'm curious in what way it seems superior.


They have short response times and higher refresh rates. Their online videos show video capable devices.


The technology page makes me thing the viewing angle is going to be more narrow than e-ink; the shape of the surface and the difference in index of refraction when on and off is going to determine how well they can do on that metric, but the complete lack of any mention of viewing angle makes me think it's not great.

[edit]

https://youtu.be/zjJ2-cdhwMQ?t=219

It's B&W and much lower contrast than current gen e-paper, but viewing angle looks great (maybe 120 degrees confirmed from the video?). They definitely need a matte surface though; that glare was terrible.


Is that what one would find in those color e-ink HiSense phones?


No they usually use Kaleido. They don't specify but it matches with the poor color saturation and 4096 colors.

Kaleido is a b/w eink panel with a colour LCD overlaid.

There's tech that looks much better like eInk's ACeP (much stronger color saturation) but it needs multiple flashing refreshes to update so it's not feasible for interactive devices. They're just being marketed for advertising and the like.


I've heard this narrative before quite often. My follow up question is, is there an end in sight? Is there reason to be hopeful that, later this decade for instance, things might get better and we might have 27" high PPI e-ink monitors available around the same price as a typical LCD?


Patents expire after 20 years.


Looking up their patents (https://patents.justia.com/assignee/e-ink-corporation?page=3...), looks like their earliest patents are from 1998, so those should be expired already. That said, there's 36 pages of patents that seem related, so I'm sure that newly made e-ink technology will be covered by the newer patents.


> Looking up their patents (https://patents.justia.com/assignee/e-ink-corporation?page=3...), looks like their earliest patents are from 1998, so those should be expired already.

everytime this topic of EInk comes up, people on HN seem to claim there's a patent thing. I ask the simple question of which patent is blocking, and I get lazy answers like patent thicket. To be frank, I suspect those who make that comment aren't actually directly involved in the industry. I've been to SID and other display conferences and the real problem is physics and also lack of funding. What I know is that EInk can't get to the lower cost pricepoint without solving the scale problem which means getting an order for millions of displays. They can't solve cheap large panels because that would require solving yield issues which again becomes a matter of scale. Startups show up but can't get the billion or so that's needed to get to scale. You can see this pattern repeated with companies like Mirasol. The real problem is that nobody wants to put millions into making displays when they could get higher ROI from putting it into another hot AI/ML or internet service company.


You can also make things tough on competitors by filing a new patent that’s different enough from the original to get approved, but close enough to the original that it would be difficult to use the older patent without infringing on the new one.


Evergreening. US patent system has no provision to ban this practice. India, for example, requires the patent to be substantially different from the original. It’s the same trick used by drug manufacturers.


I've never quite gotten the problem with evergreening. The story is, a drug company seeing their patent expiration come up, makes some small improvement and patents that, getting them a new term. So far I'm following along.

But the narrative is, this locks out generics somehow. The new patent can't cover the subject matter of the old patent, as its automatically prior art, so only the improvements are covered by the new patent. If the "improvements" are so minor as to be irrelevant then I don't see how this is a real impediment to a generic. If on the other hand there's a significant improvement, it seems like that's really something that should be getting patent protection.

I just feel like there's always a step missing in the usual simple descriptions of evergreening I see. Is this all just tied in with something like doctors writing brand-name prescriptions, and the brand name just gets these minor pointless "improvements," but enough to diverges away from what the generic is so it can't be easily substituted?


I think the missing step is likely the many millions dollars it takes to defend yourself in patent court.

Even if you're likely to win, it brings a generic offering below profitability.


This. A patent is not protection against competitors copying details of your product. A patent is a ticket to an incredibly expensive court battle.

To a certain degree, it doesn't matter if your patent isn't completely valid, or doesn't completely match what your competitors are doing. The point is to have deeper pockets than them and be able to spend more on lawyers than them. As long as your patent lasts long enough in court to stop your competitors from doing whatever you don't want them to do, it has achieved its goal.

Patents are so broken.

(IANAL, just an MBA who's heard some war stories).


I'm no expert in this sort of thing, but it would seem that if a trade-secret is required for efficient production, patenting the trade secret near the end of the patent's life would be a way to effectively extend the original patent.


Question - if that's possible, why couldn't a competitor do the same?


In theory nothing, in reality a head start counts for a lot. I’m sure companies like Apple and Sony would love to stop paying Immersion exorbitant license fees for the privilege of making things vibrate, but they’re still doing it.


It also takes time for manufacturers to design and produce. Even if someone had rushed out of the gate in 2018, they would probably not have ad products ready for a couple of years (and last year there was covid too) - and this with the most basic tech, which we know actually took significant time to be refined.

I think a more realistic timeframe for usable eInk patents is 20 years from the first Kindle release, so 2027 or so.


> Even if someone had rushed out of the gate in 2018, they would probably not have ad products ready for a couple of years (and last year there was covid too) - and this with the most basic tech, which we know actually took significant time to be refined.

Ignorant question: are you not allowed to start developing a product, or "planning" to develop a product, before a patent it infringes on expires? I see from glancing at Wikipedia that with a US patent, "making" the item is infringement, but where is the line on that? Is it that you literally can't fully make the thing, i.e. only get 99% of the way there and you're fine? Or is it infringement to have an on-the-record chat with a buddy that you're thinking of working on X when the patent for X expires? (Responses in the form of LMGTFY are welcome, I couldn't quickly figure out how to search for this.)


> Is it that you literally can't fully make the thing, i.e. only get 99% of the way there and you're fine?

Lawyer-no-longer-practicing-patent-law here: You have to look at each individual, numbered claim (at the end of the printed patent). Treat each claim as its own infringement checklist, with each term in that claim as a checklist item. IF: Every checklist item in that claim is present in what you're doing, either literally or, as an edge case, by a "substantial equivalent," a term of art; THEN: That claim is infringed. (It only takes one infringed claim for liability.)

A canonical hypothetical claim is this: "1. A seating structure comprising: (a) a generally-horizontal seating platform; and (b) at least four legs, of substantially-equal length, each affixed, substantially orthogonally, to the same side of the seating platform to extend in the same general direction relative to the seating platform."

For that hypothetical claim, a tripod-style three-legged stool with angled legs wouldn't infringe because four legs are required for infringement. (There'd probably be an argument over whether the angled legs satisfied the "substantially orthogonally" element.)

For the same claim, suppose that you had a conventional four-legged chair with a back. That chair would infringe claim 1 because the checklist elements are all present; the addition of the back is irrelevant to the infringement analysis.

(In chemical- and biological fields, extra elements can be relevant to infringement analysis, for reasons we won't go into here.)

Another edge case: If you "induce" someone to infringe the claim, you're liable as an infringer. Still another is "contributory infringement," which I won't go into here.

----------------

> Or is it infringement to have an on-the-record chat with a buddy that you're thinking of working on X when the patent for X expires?

No infringement there — for infringement to exist, someone has to actually make, use, sell, offer to sell, or import the subject matter of at least one issued claim of the patent.

(Usual disclaimer: I'm not your lawyer, don't rely on this as legal advice about your specific situation, small changes in facts can sometimes make a big difference in outcome, etc.)


I think the question that throwaway287391 is asking is: when in product development does patent police knock on your door and have the right to drag you to the court? If I build a factory that produces chairs, and then hoard all those chairs in my house, can I be told to knock it off? What if I build the factory and then have it just stand there, producing nothing?


> when in product development does patent police [sic] knock on your door and have the right to drag you to the court?

Generally, you can be sued for infringement whenever you make, use, etc., anything that comes within the scope of any issued, unexpired, not-yet-invalidated claim.

There's a nebulous experimental-use exception to liability; it's currently of uncertain scope [0].

> If I build a factory that produces chairs, and then hoard all those chairs in my house, can I be told to knock it off?

Generally, yes — if the chairs come within the scope of an issued, unexpired claim that hasn't yet been invalidated, then simply making the chairs constitutes infringement of that claim.

> What if I build the factory and then have it just stand there, producing nothing?

If the factory itself doesn't infringe a claim, then there's no infringement under the stated circumstances.

Same disclaimer as above.

[0] See, e.g. https://www.lrrc.com/webfiles/TCL-KK_DS.pdf (not an endorsement).


Thanks! It seems the solution is to make a ton of legs and a ton of seats, and then to not slap them together until the day the patents expire.


If I recall correctly e-ink took almost a decade to work out the very complicated processing required to produce displays with good enough quality control.

It was a really hard problem that required totally different tooling from a normal display manufacturer so I'd absolutely expect that to be a huge source of delays in getting set up.

You can't just convert an existing display factory to make e-ink displays, so the startup costs are huge and the odds are good that you'll take at least a few years to work out the quirks. Probably more like 4-6... if you get lucky and can figure out what tools to use quickly.


I wonder if the market based solution is for their IP to be bought by someone seeking to make products. And what that would cost.


It would cost the sum of as what it costs now, probably?

There's not much of a market-based solution to a legally protected monopoly. The best you can hope for is to higher demand at lower price points that makes a lower price profitable


Theory says it should cost some multiple of whatever revenue they’re making on it y/y now. And it’d be worth it if the buyer knew they could grow that revenue substantially compared to interest rates.


E-Ink's patents are only a symptom of the deeper problem.

Consider: why wasn't Panasonic able to capture all of the patents for LCD displays? If "patents" explained the problem, then why are high-resolution color screens so cheap?

IMO, the answer to this question is that there are simply more ways to implement color LCD displays than there are ways to implement e-paper displays (as far as we know).

Other firms could design electronic-paper displays, but they're all going to work basically the same as E-ink displays, so they'll run afoul of E-ink's patents.

FWIW, the LCD "tech tree" got wider after the early 1970s patents started expiring in the 1990s; that's when LCD prices started to fall. Maybe the same will happen to e-paper when E-ink's earliest patents start expiring, but it's no guarantee. As long as the tech tree remains narrow, E-ink could control the market for decades more yet.


Seriously, I hope their patents expire ASAP. They're hampering the technological progress of e-paper devices with their iron grip on the technology.


What does hope have to do with the patent's expiration date? You can look up the patent and determine when it expires.


I can see what you mean but on the other hand; are they really, though?

If they hadn't come up with the technology and written the patents in the first place, we wouldn't even be here talking about it.


Patent held back the development of 3D printers, and accessibility of 3D printing in general for everyone. I now see weird and clumsy workaround to avoid patent lawsuits for things like conveyor belts as well lack of certain commercial goods such as heated chamber.

Just because someone is an innovator doesn't mean they are for continual innovations or for the spread of innovations or like the idea of people building on their works.


A lot of this stuff would have been invented anyway. We still would have had 3D printers without these patent holders.


In all likelihood, they did the initial research with public funding or built on such research. Since the 1980s academia has been a get rich scheme where the public funds research and then the professors go to the private sector to make money.

I think the inventors should be rewarded, but it seems misguided to do it by making them have to exploit an exclusive hold on their invention which blockades progress. Why not just give them prize money? You could set objective standards whereby a new invention that gets produced over X quantity by any party gets Y prize money.


You can come up with technology without patenting it though. If there were no patents then presumably companies would find other ways to make money from inventions, for example by being the best at producing them or improving them more frequently.

Consider Linux, a bunch of companies have made bank from that.


But what are we talking about though? We're talking about how this technology is unavailable for nearly all usage, and prohibitively expensive for any actual use. It effectively doesn't exist.


True, but there should be mandatory tech licensing at least so they can't just suffocate progress.


Why? It’s the payoff of a limited monopoly that justifies the investment in the research. Without that incentive progress might be even further restricted.


good answer


I understand where you are coming from. I have a love-hate relationship with patents. That said, I try not to pass judgement on such things until I fully understand the story (not saying you don't).

For example, if a technology took ten years and ten billion dollars to develop to the point of it being commercially viable, well, yeah, a patent-protected monopoly is likely the ethically correct privilege the inventors should be granted.

An example (out of many) of bullshit patents and monopolies that should have never been granted are the horseshit patents Color Kinetics got years ago. These people had the audacity to patent the use of pulse-width-modulation to control the intensity of LEDs and make lights that could produce different colors. The patent office granted these people patent after patent. Once they had enough they started to attack the entire LED industry. Philips ended-up acquiring them. They let the industry know they would not enforce the bullshit patents. Still, the crooks took their thievery all the way to the bank.

-----

As for the relative cost of LCD's vs. E-ink. I think the primary difference is very simple: Volume. I haven't done the numbers, but I think I can say that the LCD industry is at least 1,000 times larger in volume. It's like the LCD vs. OLED comparison. Volume is king.

Another element is the tooling-up for manufacturing. A modern LCD manufacturing plant runs in the billions. Two billion dollars the last time I checked, but I haven't been in the industry for ten years and have lost touch. You are not going to take a multi-billion-dollar factory and slice-off a corner to make e-ink displays. These factories are highly automated and tuned machines. They are designed to make millions of displays per month.

This means that making e-ink displays requires putting-up a specialized factory or retooling an old LCD factory that might no-longer be competitive for making LCD's. Regardless of the approach, this is likely to be a very expensive undertaking. That, coupled with lower volume, is guaranteed to translate into higher prices.

Disclaimer: I was in the high performance display business for ten years. Exited a decade ago. So, yeah, I am a little disconnected as to the latest and greatest and what might be new in manufacturing. That said, I get the sense that material changes haven't been as significant in the last ten years as they were during the prior ten.


> This means that making e-ink displays requires putting-up a specialized factory or retooling an old LCD factory that might no-longer be competitive for making LCD's. Regardless of the approach, this is likely to be a very expensive undertaking. That, coupled with lower volume, is guaranteed to translate into higher prices.

I think your observation is much more accurate than the other speculations about patents I have seen.


Well, there's probably truth to the intellectual property factor as well. The business equation is a complex multivariate problem with a long list of variables. Each and every one of them contributes in one way or another. For the last 12 months we've been learning about this new "pandemic" variable, whose coefficient went from 0 to 1 in an instant.

I see people often simplify businesses along high contrast dividing lines: big/small, greedy/not greedy, green/dirty, startup/lifestyle, etc.

Anyone who simplifies businesses along any line on a monochromatic plane has never run enough of a business to fully understand just how complex things can be. They grab one variable (minimum wage, taxes, regulations, oil, etc.) and think it can be manipulated without it affecting the aforementioned multivariate equation.

A sad example of this just took place a few weeks ago in California. I think it was in San Diego that the politicians decided grocery workers had to have a $4 per hour "hero" raise due to working through COVID. While everyone could agree that there are people who made sacrifices for the rest of us, as I learned to say, some problems don't pass math and physics. the end result was that the Kroger company, which owns Ralphs and a bunch of other brands, closed four stores (maybe 2, don't remember) because there was no way they could keep the doors open if they paid everyone an extra $4 per hour. So, a forced wage raise actually destroyed jobs --and this happened nearly instantly-- and people who had work found themselves on the street.

Businesses are not single variable problems.


It was Long Beach, not San Diego, and the situation is, as you say, not that simple. Kroger has talked about closing those two "underperforming" stores many times before. Kroger is a huge company that had record sales (over $100B) and record profits last year, so it seems unlikely they couldn't afford to absorb a temporary (the ordinance limited the extra pay to 120 days) rise in labor cost of 20-28% at two stores. More likely, Kroger is taking the opportunity to close two long-struggling stores while -- most importantly -- setting an example, i.e., sending a message to other jurisdictions which might entertain the idea of mandating higher wages that Kroger is perfectly willing to punish workers and customers if it comes to that. (Also, the stores didn't close immediately, they're scheduled to close April 17.)


Yeah, nothing is simple. My guess is that the stores were borderline in terms of viability and the $4/hr hike put them over the edge.

Still, it sucks that people lost their jobs this way. We need a system where politicians suffer real consequences for their actions. Not sure what this would look like, but it sounds good.

What we don't know is if the $4/hr hike caused employers to have to reduce worker hours, shift people to part-time basis, etc. Maybe that information will come out at some point.

Imagine a situation where you have 50 people making $12 per hour and you face an instant increase in labor costs to $16 per hour, or 33%.

That means the store has to INSTANTLY generate at least 33% more in profits (not sales, profits) in order to cover that increase. I don't know any business that can simply will a 33% increase in performance. This is where political thinking quickly becomes delusional. And, no, they are not sitting on fat margins that would allow absorbing such a thing.


Why can't a Chinese company clone their product and kill them?


They could replace E-Ink in China, and maybe they already have. But China's disregard for IP protections doesn't mean that goods created in China that violate international IP agreements can be exported.


Boox exports to the US and violates GPL.


If you are aware of a particular GPL violation, please report it to the project being violated. For the Linux kernel, that would be Software Freedom Conservancy, who recently announced a new strategy for achieving GPL compliance.

https://sfconservancy.org/copyleft-compliance/ https://sfconservancy.org/copyleft-compliance/enforcement-st... https://sfconservancy.org/copyleft-compliance/firmware-liber... https://sfconservancy.org/news/2020/oct/01/new-copyleft-stra...


Many US companies violate GPL


Has anyone tried to enforce it against them?


They could easily clone & kill the technology itself. The problem comes from the fact that e-ink is worthless unless it is attached to a device with really strong vendor support. And any vendor worth a damn doesn't want to be the target of a billion dollar lawsuit.

So the choice is between an overpriced device from a major player, or a cheap device with next to no support from a no-name vendor.


I'll take the second, as long as there are no hazards. I think the hacker community could build something usable.


The patent situation and the marketing behavior of E-ink are certainly important factors. But it doesn't explain why those companies, which do create E-ink devices often are not innovative. The Kindle is a nice piece of hardware and some of the models are even cheap. But why isn't there a better software on it, making it a really versatile device? Same with most e-reading competitors. Few offer anything beyond the reading capability and basically none are programmable by the user. Just having a Kindle tuned for being end-user programming friendly would be huge.

That is one thing I got my reMarkable2 for. It is a great device and very useful. But one thing stands out: it runs Linux and offers you shell access. You can just upload your own programs to it and tweak many things. Even just having the ability to upload your own "power off" picture to it is a really nice thing[1]. If the makers of the reMarkable would push a bit more into the direction of enabling users to create software, as in documenting the system and creating APIs/libraries to use for integration into the existing software stack, this could grow enormously. The hardware is great, now comes the software.

What I dream of, would be scenarios which make great use of the always-visible screen content. Like a dashboard which shows you your upcoming appointments, unread notifications, perhaps just the weather status. It refreshes every 5 minutes but otherwise doesn't consume energy or distract you with animations. Or being able to control the e-Reader from your computer. Reading a man-page? Why not send it to the e-Ink screen and have it displayed there until some other content is sent? Like a book which you keep open beside your computer, just remotely configurable. So much things could be done by just adding software to existing e-Ink hardware. And if such an environment grows, probably so will the hardware offerings targeting this market.

1: my favorite lock screen image is the GoT map "The North 02". It is unbelievable on the e-Ink and looks like printed on paper.


> If the makers of the reMarkable would push a bit more into the direction of enabling users to create software, as in documenting the system and creating APIs/libraries to use for integration into the existing software stack, this could grow enormously. The hardware is great, now comes the software.

The remarkable is fully open source isn't it? Have any users done work towards adding functionality?


Yes, the reMarkable is fully open source and there are user-created additions. This is something I really like about the reMarkable. I just think that the company could push even more for third-party software. Especially for more beginner-level hacking.


>the current consumption was astronomical, sometimes triggering the protection of the power supply on certain images

That's surprising, since I was always under the impression that E-Ink displays were pretty low-power. Is it the drawing of the new image that requires so much energy in a small instant?


E-ink is zero power when displaying the picture. But moving all these tiny ink particles around takes a lot of energy.

I suspect that low refresh rates are partly due to the problems of power delivery to the pixels via transparent conductors.


E-ink has no draw when static, but changing from white to black or back involves a physical state change that takes quite a lot of energy. Many eink readers rate their battery life in number of full screen refreshes.


It’s so silly though, have they done real correct math on how much more they would make if everyone used it?


My mind immediately went to the most recent episode of NPR's Planet Money, where they explored buying rights to one of Marvel/Disney's +7,000 characters. Specifically, they tried licensing Doorman, an obscure joke of a hero who can teleport others.

Although they never said it outright, it sounded like the main deterrent is just anyone else making money with an angle Disney hadn't explored. It sounds similar to eInk refusing millions if it means someone else makes a greater fortune.


Volume doesn't always equate to greater profit. High margin luxury goods are a valid business strategy too. I'm sure they're doing the thing that their data points to as netting them the largest profit.


The "luxury goods" strategy is viable in a direct to consumer play. But does it still apply at the component level? If anything, I'd think there's an aversion to lower volume, single-source boutique parts just because of the fear of supply chain kinks. Maybe there's some marketing case to be made of "you can elevate your product's market position with expensive premium components" but that argument has a lot of moving parts when you're not the only displauy tech on the market.

I wonder if there's a non-margin factor in play. Maybe something like:

* They don't want to be in the "support" business, so by keeping the product line away from hobbyists/small players, they keep their overhead low.

* Their main concern is product secrecy and therefore will only deal with firms large enough to take NDAs and licenses seriously

* Their manufacturing capacity is finite and not easily scaled, so they couldn't actually deliver on a hypothetical millions-of-screens-per-year order.

* Some sort of brand protectionism. I see a lot of "we could probably hack and rig an E-ink display to do something outside its normal sales case" discussion. I could imagine a situation where they ended up-- in the eyes of end consumers-- responsible for the failings of such products. They never said to use their panel as a desktop monitor for playing 60fps video, but they can't stop someone from trying and then bellyaching about it to the world.

Of course, a mandatory-licensing mechanism could help escape whatever tarpit they're in.


I think it does indeed apply to component level, when that component is so user visible. There aren't competitors in this space yet; it's "buy it from them", or don't have it. They aren't selling a luxury good based on a brand (but that is otherwise indistinguishable from their competitors); they have a monopoly.

Again, I think it's...rather a lot of hubris to assume that a company is doing the less profitable thing (and it is an assumption, since none of us have better data than they do).

That said, sure, we can speculate there may be other factors at play.


FWIW, I believe this has been debunked. Volume (when there is a net margin) always equates to greater profit until market saturation. Veblen goods rarely work for niche markets but can work for commodity markets (see cars and watches for examples).


I'm not saying it's a Veblen good. I'm saying that even though the demand drops as the price goes up, it may well not drop so far that it's a loss of net profit to sell at high margin. They do, after all, have a monopoly on the good.

If you're saying that even holding a monopoly, the most profitable price point is at market saturation, I'd need to see something backing that. And also what you mean by market saturation; the cost of parts for an iPhone 11 Pro is estimated to be ~$490. The list price is, what, $1100? You're basically saying that either they've already achieved market saturation, and would gain no new customers dropping the price to $600 (parts + $100 for distribution, assembly, etc), or that they're leaving money on the table. I find both of those very hard to believe. So maybe I'm misunderstanding you?


Then why are there diamond cartels?


You aren't serious right? I mean there is a whole article on DeBeers (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/02/have-yo...).


Can you or someone else with more business tech knowledge explain this to me... historically, we have seen companies with patented or controlled environments open up their tech to various levels and see overwhelming success. Fuck-you-money levels of success. While I do understand wanting to keep a tech patent a little close to the chest, a tech patent seems to generate Scrouge Mcduck money when they hug as many devs as possible. Why do we still see this ass backwards patent holding? 30% of millions/billions of small berry pies is far better than 99% of one medium sized cow pie. Any good reason why Eink is that way? Just plain stupid or is there a good reason?


Patents encourage innovation. In exchange for publishing your tech, you get protection from those who might copy it for ~10-20 years. You get to make money from it and the world benefits from knowing the details of your technology.

Software patents are the ones that make no sense because software is already protected by copyright and patents were never intended to protect algorithms.


Patents encourage innovation. In exchange for publishing your tech, you get protection from those who might copy it for ~10-20 years. You get to make money from it and the world benefits from knowing the details of your technology.

This is stated theory of why patents work, not actual evidence that they work.


The alternative is easy to imagine. Companies either do not innovate or they protect IP on their own by keeping it secret. That may entail keeping headcount low and more overhead for security.

So, less jobs, less innovation, less sharing of development, and more duplication of security efforts that are shared by every company. Getting rid of patents would be a recipe for further entrenching existing wealth. You'd have no protection from a major corporation replicating your garage-company's processes. As it is, companies have a hard enough time fending off the likes of China which does not respect western IP.


I've done a little work with e-ink displays. My God, is that stuff a pain in the arse or what.


> E-ink, the company, holds the patents of the pigment core tech that makes "paper-like" displays possible and strongarms the display manufacturers and the users of their displays to absolute silence. Any research project or startup that comes up with a better alternative technology gets bought out or buried by their lawyers ASAP.

Wow, that is a very serious allegation. But I googled and googled and googled, and found not even one such lawsuit. I also see competing tech like Clearink. Could you show us proof that what you claimed about "buried by their lawyers" is actually occurring?


The question is, If the patent system didn't allow the inventor to screw with the market and take advantage of everybody would they have had the incentive in the first place to develop the technology?

So yes the patent is responsible for the existence of the monopoly, but it is also responsible for the existence of the product that the monopoly is built upon.

I think a 10 year limit on the monopoly is a good compromise (which is basically what the patent system is already doing). Even with those companies patenting DNA... after 10 years the argument is over.


geometric increase in the patent permit price.


I own a reMarkable 2.

There is certainly enough to justify the cost, if you are a prolific note-taker.

Conversely, I find it hard to justify the cost of an iPad, becuase I already have a phone and several laptops. I can't see a situation where a tablet would be more useful to me, so I've never bought one.

Turns out different people have different needs, and the e-ink note-taking market caters to that. Most people would find an iPad more useful, so they're lower cost.


My killer use case when I was a student was having a device I could take handwritten notes on, watch class videos on, and read my textbooks on. I then had one single device with a large screen for most of my needs. Trying to read notes on my phone was uncomfortable on the train but perfect on the iPad.

The real game changer was when I started taking the iPad to the gym and putting it on the elliptical and could do required reading or rewatch classes.

There was a positive reinforcement loop of wanting to run a certain amount but then also wanting to stay on long enough to finish a chapter and then once again figuring I should run just a little longer and get ahead in class.


I do this too with my Kindle. I feel odd, but I usually set a goal for 30 minutes then if I'm halfway through a chapter or something, I'll often just keep going. It's actually been kinda helpful at times, though I don't do it on days I run, only when I walk/do legs.


> Turns out different people have different needs, and the e-ink note-taking market caters to that.

I have the first generation, and I do enjoy it. However, I think a distinction is _how_ one takes notes. For brainstorming, and just writing free-form, it's great. However, I find it really annoying for taking notes about a doc, for two reasons:

- If you need more notes than fit in the margins and whitespace of a PDF, are you going to flip between the doc and a separate file of notes? What if you want to compare two documents, and take notes about the distinct ways two authors discuss the same material? The idea that you can't have more than one thing open feels immediately limiting.

- If you're several pages into a doc and want to flip back to some prior point (and you don't recall the specific page number), it's actually pretty awkward.

I feel like these devices are on the cusp of being much more satisfying. But at present, either I print out all but one thing which I can deal with on the remarkable, or I end up looking at a combination of a laptop and the remarkable, and in either case, I can't help feeling that an obvious use case was not well considered.


I also own a reMarkable 2

Considering how small the company behind it is compared to Apple, I was positively surprised how well it is designed and made - in some aspects I consider it superior to the iPad. Apple can fund a lot or R&D thanks to the volume of iPad sales, a small company has much more problems to do so. And probably the reMarkable sales numbers are small compared to the iPad. At least they were able to bring down prices quite a bit with the second generation. To be honest, I wouldn't have paid much more than the 400€ for the device.


Let me help you - iPad is the ultimate content consumption device. It’s by far my favorite electronic device and by far the most used. I work on my computer, I communicate on my phone, but I relax on my iPad. Internet browsing, shopping, watching shorter videos (or even longer ones when cooking), sometimes playing games, reading books.

Thanks for the recommendation for Remarkable 2, considering buying one for a while now.


I have heard of some using the ipad pro as a drawing tablet, in which case it competes with e.g. Wacom, whose prices for their display-drawing-tablets are on par with ipads.


I've been slowly learning to draw using paper and an iPad Pro. Obviously they are different, but the iPad Pro gets a lot of right in terms of responsiveness and pencil pressure.


My daughter is in art school. She was considering a Wacom tablet, then did her research and bought an iPad pro instead. She seems thrilled with the choice.


My partner has a ReMarkable 2, I have an Ipad pro 11. I got mine earlier and thought writing on it was pretty good. But it's not even close. ReMarkable feels 90% like paper, it's crazy. Ipad (at least without one of those paperlike screen protectors) isn't even comparable, it very much feels like writing on glass. She loves it (for her PhD), if you take a lot of handwriten notes it's amazing.


I really do not get this at all. I find browsing the internet on a touch screen so much worse than with a keyboard and mouse. Being able to just open a new tab and search for stuff is ever so slightly harder on a touchscreen


Got mine a week ago. I always take notes and draw mind maps while working on a project, so this fits perfectly.

I like the pen and paper sensation, the fact that my handwriting is exactly the same as on paper, the ability to erase, rewrite, cut and paste.

I don't like the flaky sync but love seeing my drawings as PDFs. The LiveView function almost doesn't work but a third party app allows me to display the tablet on the desktop for Zoom meetings.

Arxiv PDFs are easy to read only if you crop or zoom, which is a bit unfortunate. I would have loved integration with Pocket, Dropbox, Arxiv and other sources. There's no TTS option, which is also unfortunate, because I find TTS doubles my focus when reading technical text.


> I don't like the flaky sync

Probably relevant: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26145584

> Arxiv PDFs are easy to read only if you crop or zoom

Have you tried another PDF reader, like KOReader[0] or plato[1]? There's also [2] which looks really interesting for cases where you want to save time.

[0]: https://github.com/koreader/koreader

[1]: https://github.com/darvin/plato

[2]: https://github.com/GjjvdBurg/paper2remarkable


> The LiveView function almost doesn't work but a third party app allows me to display the tablet on the desktop for Zoom meetings.

What's the third party app?


I use https://github.com/bordaigorl/rmview to good effect, though it just occasionally stops working and I need to restart it to get it going again (I think it’s from brief USB connection blips, which can happen on the Surface Book for reasons I won’t go into but which won’t apply to almost any other hardware).


I'm using https://github.com/bordaigorl/rmview. It does occasionally need to be restarted to work but other than that it's been pretty stable.


I installed KOReader so I could rotate papers 90 degrees and read them without squinting. Would highly recommend


Could you expound a bit on why you think it's more useful?

I am thinking about getting one (or one of a couple other similar options), because I think it would be MUCH more comfortable for reading and annotating papers, which is my main practical use case for an iPad. And if it's at all a decent replacement for a paper notebook, that would reduce the number of things in my bag.

But I'm also a bit worried that the organizational features might be lacking. Specifically, it sounds like there's no fulltext search feature, and syncing has to be done through their cloud service, which sounds troublesome because I've already got a system and encompasses file types and tools that ReMarkable doesn't handle.


This is not the normal use case of a remarkable 2, but I have found it to be the absolute best childrens toy ever. My 4 year old spends probably 2 hours a day drawing on it, making mazes out of the graph paper templates, drawing beehives on the hexagonal templates, doodling on cut-away diagrams of space shuttles and pirate ships that I found and imported as PDFs from the web.

It feels wonderful for him to use, as opposed to the iPad which makes me feel like I'm rotting his brain. After a half hour of using the ipad, he's irritable and throws a tantrum when it's time to put it away. With the remarkable it's just like a pad of paper, but I don't have to worry about him getting ink on my bedspread.


The remarkable is really good at feeling like pencil and paper, which mean it's really good for written notes. The epaper display is also nice for reading text in daylight.

The iPad has the Apple Pencil and it's not bad but for everything else the iPad is far better. You can annotate a pdf and send it somewhere else in different ways. It can take a or download a picture and mark it up. With the appstore it can handle and convert just about any file type. It also does a million other things like web browsing, chatting, videos, music and games. For most people that adds up to a more objective "useful" score.

But there is a huge charm and advantage for gadgets that are highly focused on a single function. For what it's worth I still sketch and take notes using a mechanical pencil and spiral bounded notebook.


FWIW, I use a Paperlike screen protector, and have been very happy with the writing comfort I get out of it.

If there's one thing I'd absolutely miss with the actual writing experience on a ReMarkable, it's colored highlighting. I've been using the same color coding system for years and years now, and I'd hate to lose it. But it might just be worth it to lose the backlight and the glare, and gain the ability to do my reading outdoors.


I'm in the same boat as you, I'm thinking about getting a ReMarkable 2 and am turned off by their cloud service. It seems possible to run Syncthing[0], however, so this is giving me hope.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26145584


same. I spent ~500$ on boox air. To me its my most used device after my laptop. I use it everyday for hours to save my eyes, totally worth $500. I also have an ipad which i never use.


I have no regrets buying a Boox Note 2. It runs Android so I have the Kindle app installed and the Adobe Digital Editions reader for my uni books and well anything else I want. The only thing I wish it had was MicroSD support.


Exactly the same as my situation. And given Boox is Android makes it really flexible for any kind of reading content.


The one thing that's kept me from getting one of those is the measly 8 GB storage and not even having an SD card slot.


It doesn't seem that measly to me. By my estimate, it would be enough for my collection of academic papers I'm saving to grow to about 4,000, which, at my current reading rate, gives me about 40 years of runway.

It wouldn't be much for a phone or tablet. But phones and tablets also need to be able to store apps, photos, videos, and audio content.


> There is certainly enough to justify the cost, if you are a prolific note-taker.

Would you mind saying what you find most useful?

I have an aging iPad and would very much like to replace it with an a-ink device because I don’t like staring at a light source.


I also own a reMarkable 2 since last December and the fact it is not a light source makes it valuable when you spend almost all your waking hours staring at screens.

For me, the most useful trait is that it gathers all my note in a "physical" gadget rather than being scattered on several laptops/smartphones/notebook.


I have one as well. For me the killer feature is the ability to copy/paste your own handwriting.

I'm on the device 6 of 8 hours in a day, constantly taking notes of my meetings and conversations. Frequently I write sentences in the wrong order, and have to rearrange them for logical/linear understanding.

Sure, you can do that on a Slate or iPad, but neither feel or sound like you're writing on real paper.

It is just so satisfying to use.


The fact that it's a single-purpose (ish) device, and that it feels and works so much like real paper.

It's like being able to carry an infinite number of infinitely long paper notebooks with you.

I used to get through about one paper notebook a month, and couldn't find notes I'd taken 3+ months ago. Now everything I've ever noted is available with 5-30 seconds of searching and paging about.

The fact that, if I've written a bunch of notes in the wrong place, I can cut and paste them elsewhere is something I use every day. Everything is so much more organised.

Also, and it's definitely NOT designed as an e-reader, but if you convert your ebooks to fit the screen, it's approximately the size of a hardback book page, which I find miles more comfortable to read from than my Kindle.


Very interesting. I did the opposite reasoning - I also do lots of note taking, however, I preferred to have a more flexible device with OK note taking (in short, a 10" Android tablet), rather than narrow device with good note taking.


I’ve had the same thoughts about the iPad. Do you know if you can use reMarkable as a display screen to draw on for video conferencing? If it could I’d probably just buy one now.


There is a beta feature for using the reMarkable as a 'whiteboard' but it's very very buggy right now.


I can recommend the Boox Note Air. Basically an android tablet with an e-ink display.

Excellent for PDF annotation and taking notes. Quirky as it runs Android apps.

Excellent display for reading


I would take one if i also could use it as replacement for my kindle.


If you are willing to strip the DRM and convert the files to epub or PDF, you can read them on the Remarkable 2. I do this as I prefer to read on the Remarkable 2 (compared to reading on the Kindle). It's just convenient to have all the technical material, notes and the leisure reading in one place.


I do this too. As well as ebooks, I have all my household manuals on it (washing machine, gas boiler, etc.) plus manuals for various devices - so much better than either keeping the paper ones, or keeping PDFs on the computer, as you can annotate them too!


If it runs android, you can use the kindle app.


You might be thinking of the Boox Note line of devices. The Remarkable runs a custom Linux distro, not Android.


Beyond patent issues, TBH I would not have a problem paying for a reMarkable this very day, if I could be 10000% sure that there wasn't some shitty SaaS service involved in using it at any stage.

These days, whenever a new gadget comes up, my first reaction has become "I wonder how they try to screw you into a SaaS later".


I have one, and the cloud service is actually completely replaceable if you want. Since the device is running linux you can compile to arm7 and just run a sync cron to whatever server you want if you don't like their cloud service.

Edit: I think people may have the impression this is like Android where the process is "ok, first reboot, hold all the buttons but not that one button and then unlock root, then flash the rom with a custom version of the OS from this sketchy site and ... bam! You're in control now"

Actually it's like: sign into wifi on the device. It's now running an ssh server available on your network. The password to log in as root is in the settings. You can ssh in right then and write a bash script to do what you want.


Does that still hold for the reMarkable 2?


yeah, I have the reMarkable 2 myself. It's an amazing device. The only downside is really the cost. It's premium quality like an Apple device (the unboxing is a trip) and it's hackable on day one.


That, and the lack of documentation on repairability. I mean, I don't want to invest $450 on a device I can't fix or change the battery down the line.


Yes, and the filesystem is still mostly the same.


I was under the impression that ReMarkable in particular was pretty good about this. I believe they just run a custom Linux variant and you can even ssh into them.

I was really considering getting one, but I think the bigger issue for me is the LiPo battery. You can’t take the thing apart without a heat gun because it’s held together with adhesive, so in a few years when the battery doesn’t hold a charge, you have an expensive paperweight. I would pay a premium for a thicker device that used normal screws so that consumables such as the battery can be replaced easily.

(Many devices these days are similar, so it’s not only ReMarkable doing this.)


A thicker device would be more comfortable to hold as well. It feels heavy and it is slim. So, it "digs" into the palms a bit depending on how you hold it and that is not comfortable for extended periods of handheld use.


The iPad is much better at it. You just install Nextcloud on it and now all apps have support for saving to your own server


Looks like you replied to the wrong comment(?)

Regarding the Nextcloud's sync functionality on iOS, though: Does it support two-way sync? And do note-taking apps like Notability support it, too? Last time I checked, my impression had been that none of them does – which is a deal breaker for me, given that I'm a heavy user of Syncthing and have really gotten used to its instant two-way syncing functionality to keep all my devices up-to-date.


Ah yes I did reply to the wrong comment. And support is kind of universal but not deeply integrated in apps. Nextcloud adds itself as a location to the iOS Files app so anything that has the ability to save to Files can save to Nextcloud.

The problem is this is more of an import/export workflow rather than seamless syncing. I use it a lot while drawing, the files are all stored internally to the app but when I’m done I save the result to Nextcloud.

It would be nice to have apps automatically save everything there but I think Apple wants to avoid having these remote storage setups as primary storage so your device is still usable with no network connection.


You can easily disable software updates, and don’t need to set up the cloud sync service. The device is completely usable with no internet connection, and you get ssh access that you can do what you like with, and they provide a Qt SDK to build anything against. But I do wish xochitl (their UI) was open source.


I was worried about this too. Imagine my surprise (and pleasure) when the OOB wizard had a "not now" option for wifi config. "Auto-updates" were "off" by default, and did not nag me, "cloud sync" defaulted to "off" as well, and the device root ssh password was shown on the bottom of the about screen.


I have had great luck with "reMarkable Connection Utility." It bypasses reMarkable's cloud, which I have never once connected to. http://www.davisr.me/projects/rcu/


I'm sure one of the people who own one will chime in, but i think the whole device is hackable, you can get into a linux shell as root and do whatever you want.


Out of the box, the SaaS thingy is not really needed, you can just signup and use the device without ever logging in or downloading their mobile app. They're just kind enough to keep all your notes for you and thus, by default, need a bunch of battery power for the sync process.


You don't even need to sign up.


I have one, thus far their cloud service is free and hopefully will continue to be so. Every ReMarkable comes with an 8gb cloud account, which is the same amount of storage on the device.

Hopefully this doesn't change, because it's really a pain to put things on the tablet without using their app.


> Hopefully this doesn't change, because it's really a pain to put things on the tablet without using their app.

Have you tried Syncthing[0, 1]? I'm actually considering buying a ReMarkable 2 right now and the fact that Syncthing seems to be working on it is playing a major role in my decision process.

[0]: https://syncthing.net

[1]: https://github.com/evidlo/remarkable_syncthing


I haven't tried it. The existing app works pretty well for my purposes, but I'll keep this in mind if that changes. I also have a Kindle, and the ReMarkable app is a much easier way to get content onto the device than the process you have to use to get non-Amazon content onto a Kindle. Just drag an drop, then it syncs.


I have a Boyue Likebook Ares - it cost £190. https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2019/11/gadget-review-boyue-likeboo...

It has an 8inch screen - about the same size as the iPad mini. It runs Android 8 but, obviously, some apps work better than others. It came with several nibs for its pencil.

They have an 10 inch version for around £230. See https://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/boyue-p10-is...

So, there are some cheapish, largeish, eInk devices out there.

I was told (and I have no way to back it up) that the yields on eInk are fairly low. They make a couple of square metres of screen, and then have to cut it to size. Because of defects in the process, they can have a lot of wastage. So the larger sizes are disproportionally more expensive.


I ended up with a Likebook Mars as it fulfilled the entire criteria I had. Very similar design to the Ares.

headphone jack

runs new enough android to run syncthing

supports SD card


I think e-ink screens would be great for musicians too! A lot of musicians are using iPad Pro, but I personally would rather have a dual screen e-ink device like this (for better battery life, better readability): https://www.gvidomusic.com/ ($1600!!)

First company to build something like this and bring the cost down to something a bit more reasonable will get my business.


Musicians often don't have all that much money though, so unless this device cost less than maybe $200 it's a very hard sell.


Even the broke musicians I know have thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in gear.


Remember what the device is replacing though...

Expensive eInk device vs... paper.

Even if it is more convenient, you are still competing with the price of paper. iPads at least have multiple functions, but a set of eInk screens for music are pretty specialized.


The broke musicians I know can barely afford to pay their rent.


Both can be true at the same time.


Having expensive equipment by virtue doesn't mean you have captial to buy more expensive equipment. I think my definition of being broke must be different to yours, if it means you're able to buy an expensive (for what it really is, you're paying mainly for IP there) e-ink display just for scoring. Especially in an age when the usual gigging and live performances have been virtually non-existent for a year.


thousand in Gear! Not computers/ipads! :)


I would love a quality eink display to replace my iPad Pro for piano music. One reason I haven’t tried anything else is it has to be rock solid - crashing/locking up/etc during a gig would be terrible. The iPad (with a Bluetooth pedal for page turns) hasn’t let me down yet.


> for better battery life, better readability)

High latency could be an issue though.


Do e-ink tablets even have music-worthy sound capability? Even at $1600 Gvido has no speaker!??


It's about displaying musical notes that the musicians then follow. Your options are either printing a lot or looking at a tablet.


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