Sony was one of the first big name companies to launch an electronic book reader featuring an E Ink display. While Amazon’s Kindle products have come to dominate that space, Sony continues to offer some of the most interesting E Ink products, including the company’s “Digital Paper” device which features a 13.3 inch electronic paper display and an active digitizer with support for pen input.
Now Sony and E Ink have announced plans to work together to design, sell, and license electronic paper products.
The new joint venture means that E Ink Holdings will collaborate with a Sony subsidiary called Sony Semiconductor Solutions. Both companies will continue to operate as independent businesses, but they’ll work together to develop and market “products that utilize electronic paper displays, as well as related applications and the integration platform for system partners.”
In other words, we could start to see Sony-designed E Ink displays and related technologies show up in products that don’t bear the Sony name. I think of it as sort of like the way Sony’s camera technology is widely used in non-Sony smartphones.
The difference is that there’s currently a huge market for smartphone camera tech, because, well… there’s a huge market for smartphones. It’d be foolish to sell one without a camera. So there are plenty of potential customers for Sony.
Electronic Paper displays, meanwhile, are a bit more niche. They have certain advantages over the LCD and OLED displays that are commonly used in phones, tablets, laptops, and other computing products. You can view E Ink screens in direct sunlight. They consume very little power, and they can display a static image indefinitely with no power at all (they only use electricity when you want to change the image on a screen).
That’s made them excellent choices for Kindle and NOOK-style eReaders. In recent years E Ink has also developed solutions for digital signage with small screens that can be used as price tags, wearables, or sticky notes and big screens that can be used for restaurant menus, whiteboards, or transportation schedules, among other things.
But in most of those situations, electronic paper displays have to compete with virtually ubiquitous LCD and OLED screens which have one key advantage: color.
It remains to be seen whether this new partnership between E Ink and Sony will lead to wider adoption of E Ink. But I suspect it’ll remain a niche product for the foreseeable future.
Incidentally, Sony has also just announced a new version of its Digital Paper device. The DPT-R1 has a higher-resolution 1650 x 220 pixel display (up from 1200 x 1600) and should be available in Japan in June.