E-reader maker IRex Technologies has filed for bankruptcy. CEO Hans Brons told a Dutch publication that sales of it's e-reader DR800SG fell short of expectations and the company has run out of working capital.
According to some press reports, the device was too technology focussed, repeatedly delayed (missing out on key sales seasons) and not enough effort was given to services, the critical factor as Sony had learnt to their cost initially and as Amazon had achieved so well.
A shakeout in e-reader manufacturers has been largely expected. With some 50 e-readers now available, with the majority having poor brand recognition, the market is not big enough to support all of them. In addition, the performance and publicity around Apple's iPad has meant that, to an extent, the two are being compared side by side even though the intended applications are different.
However, despite this, for some, sales of E-readers are going well. Earlier this month, PVI, the World's largest E-reader display manufacturer, reported that it expects its 2010 output to grow threefold from last year and rise another two-to three fold in 2011.
PVI has been investing heavily in the area. E-ink, which was originally offered $215million by PVI (which would have been a very poor return for investors that had put in about $150 million into the company over 12 years), was finally sold for approximately $500 million to PVI - probably the highest return acquisition for a printed electronics company to date.
Since then PVI acquired Hydis, obtaining production capacity four times larger than itself. In addition, PVI has collaborated with LCD display manufacturer Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMO). With the CMO's R&D capability and their 5G production line, the companies will be able to produce competitive TFT active-matrix substrate based on e-paper characteristics. Early this year, LG announced its purchase of corporate bonds in PVI in order to "mutually support production capacity on certain e-paper and high-end TFT-LCD to respond to growing market demand and to achieve higher cost efficiency." PVI reports that it will start to produce colour e-readers in Q4.
We have yet to see the market uptake for thinner e-readers on plastic substrates. Plastic Logic are directly patterning the TFTs using an organic semiconductor and intend to sell e-readers, including management of services, while PVI have licensed the EPLAR process - where aSi TFTs are constructed on glass and transferred to a plastic substrate. PVI only make the display modules (for many e-reader companies) and not complete e-readers. As seen from IRex, it is vital that due effort is put into the usability to bring e-readers up to par with expectations set from Apple's products. Time will tell.
For more information attend Printed Electronics Asia - Hong Kong, October 13-14 and Printed Electronics USA in Santa Clara, USA Dec 1-2. See www.IDTechEx.com/events for more information.