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Why Kindle 2's Screen Took 12 Years and $150 Million 524

Posted by timothy
from the it-went-usps dept.
waderoush writes "Critics are eating up everything about Amazon's Kindle 2 e-book reader except its $359 price tag. But if you think that's expensive, take a look behind the Kindle at E Ink, the Cambridge, MA, company that has spent $150 million since 1997 developing the electronic paper display that is the Kindle's coolest feature. In the company's first interview since the Kindle 2 came out, E Ink CEO Russ Wilcox says it took far longer than expected to make the microcapsule-based e-paper film not only legible, but durable and manufacturable. Now that the Kindle 2 is finally getting readers to take e-books seriously, however, Wilcox says he sees a profitable future in which many book, magazine, and newspaper publishers will turn to e-paper, if only to save money on printing and delivery. (Silicon Alley Insider recently calculated that the New York Times could save more than $300 million a year by shutting down its presses and buying every subscriber a Kindle). 'What we've got here is a technology that could be saving the world $80 billion a year,' Wilcox says."
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Why Kindle 2's Screen Took 12 Years and $150 Million

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  • purell (Score:5, Funny)

    by bugs2squash (1132591) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:15PM (#27001953)
    should make the case, so you can read them in the john and not spread germs
    • Re:purell (Score:5, Informative)

      by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium@yahoEEEo.com minus threevowels> on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:23PM (#27002057)

      'What we've got here is a technology that could be saving the world $80 billion a year,' Wilcox says."

      Anyone able to translate that into number of trees saved? Not only does it save trees but the chemistry involved in making paper is horrible. Even with new process'. http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=1188&content_id=CTP_003400&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=b6dfb0f1-988d-4fd1-96e3-8856d0b81993 [acs.org]

      • Re:purell (Score:5, Funny)

        by fataugie (89032) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:31PM (#27002209) Homepage

        That assumes that some of us won't cut down trees just for the fun of it.

        You're speaking with someone who lit a tire on Earth Day just because it pissed off the hippies in the neighborhood.

      • Re:purell (Score:5, Insightful)

        by macxcool (1370409) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:34PM (#27002263)

        Anyone able to translate that into number of trees saved?

        Once again, these trees are not from clear-cut tropical forests made into farmland for subsistence farming. These trees are most likely in areas managed by forestry companies who plant at least as many trees as they cut.

        There are regulations in western countries and the forestry companies would be putting themselves out of business if they cut down all the trees.

        • Re:purell (Score:5, Funny)

          by Duradin (1261418) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @04:04PM (#27002695)
          Wait, you're making it sound like trees are a renewable resource that can be managed to provide a sustainable harvest! That can't be right! Once a tree is cut another one can never be regrown in the same spot! That's why we have to save trees... right?
          • Re:purell (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@nOspam.infamous.net> on Thursday February 26, 2009 @04:26PM (#27003027) Homepage

            Once a tree is cut another one can never be regrown in the same spot! That's why we have to save trees... right?

            Trees can be replaced easily. Forest ecosystems can't. If we use fewer trees, we can let some tree farms begin the slow, slow process of returning to being actual forests.

            A tree farm is NOT a forest.

            • Re:purell (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Carnildo (712617) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @05:12PM (#27003757) Homepage Journal

              Trees can be replaced easily. Forest ecosystems can't. If we use fewer trees, we can let some tree farms begin the slow, slow process of returning to being actual forests.

              I drive past a tree farm on a regular basis. If it were shut down, it wouldn't return to forest. It would return to semi-desert scrubland. The only reason there's a tree farm there is because it's just up the hill from the fourth-largest river in the United States. Most places where trees are farmed for paper are like this: take a chunk of cheap land with good irrigation, plant a bunch of fast-growing trees, and harvest them every 15 years or so.

              Trees farmed for lumber are different: since they grow slowly and need to be larger to produce worthwhile products, they're usually grown in places where trees would naturally grow.

            • Re:purell (Score:5, Interesting)

              by QuantumRiff (120817) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @05:51PM (#27004381)

              Actually, forest ecosystems rely on destruction every few years to clear out the ground clutter and dead trees. This used to be accomplished by fire, but then we started putting these fires out. Then, we logged them, so everything was in a balance.. but in the mid 90's or so, we stopped logging because of environmental reasons in the west, and over the last few years, we have had HUGE fires on the west coast. Logging or fire was the only way to kill the western pine beetle. With no logging, and putting out the fires combined, HUGE sections of the forest are dying. Near where I used to live in Oregon, there was a stand of dead trees that was measured in hundreds of square miles from the beetle. within the next few years, its going to be an insane forest fire.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by macmurph (622189)

          In the case of Indonesia, the rainforest is being cut illegally to supply China with wood and paper (and hence US bound products). You can't just "replant" an ecosystem like a rainforest because it has a lot of fragile symbiotic relationships. Once its gone, it becomes cattle grazing land (see australia or southern mexico for examples).

          This is why Forest Stewardship Council lumber and paper products should be promoted. http://www.fsc.org/ [fsc.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by eleuthero (812560)
        though the others have noted they will cut down trees for fun... I am thinking more importantly that paper mills get their trees typically from tree farms... which have a record for 1) using eucalyptus trees which damage soil but 2) treating damaged soil to reuse the land... We aren't saving any trees by stopping the production of paper... unless you are one of those concerned about dryads being killed and then, well, I for one am not that concerned about you anymore.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        Why? trees saved means nothing. Most paper come from managed forests that are replanted after harvest.

        Most of the destructive tree cutting comes from land clearing for useless things like Golf courses, Subdivisions, Farms, and industry.

        The logging industry is the most "GREEN" industry you can get, they understand conservation.

      • The number of trees saved will probably be around zero, since newsprint's wood source is almost exclusively tree farms. If demand for wood from tree farms decreased, they'd probably be cut down and turned to some other use, like farms of the non-tree variety.

        The other environmental effects are trickier to sort out. Paper, as you point out, uses lots of nasty chemicals. But then so does manufacturing electronics, and mining the various metals that go into electronics manufacturing. Disposing of electronics,

      • Re:purell (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NevarMore (248971) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @04:46PM (#27003325) Homepage Journal

        Not only does it save trees but the chemistry involved in making paper is horrible. Even with new process'

        The process for making plastic, circuit boards, and e-paper in the kindle is cleaner how?

      • Re:purell (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pilgrim23 (716938) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @06:49PM (#27005163)
        Speaking as a collector of antiquarian books; made of linen paper and just as fine today as they were 300-400 years ago when they were made, I find this curious. I also wonder in 300-400 years how well the kindle interface will work compared to a standard bound book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I can just imagine:

      Purell this week announces that it is suing Amazon and E-Ink for disrupting their hand sanitizer <del>racket</del>business.

  • Sold (Score:2, Funny)

    by Camann (1486759)
    "(Silicon Alley Insider recently calculated that the New York Times could save more than $300 million a year by shutting down its presses and buying every subscriber a Kindle)" You had me at Kindle.
  • Oh noes (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:20PM (#27002019) Homepage

    eInk will never replace newspaper!

    How will we start beach bonfires? What will we line the bottom of the bird cage with? What will we do when we forget our umbrellas? What will we put under kitty's food bowl? What will we roll up and smack our friends with? How will we "copy" things with Silly Putty?

    • Re:Oh noes (Score:5, Funny)

      by 0racle (667029) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:23PM (#27002067)
      How will England sell fish and chips?
    • How will we start beach bonfires?

      Gasoline.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      How will we start beach bonfires?
      short the battery and stuff it under the wood. you'll have a fire soon.

      What will we line the bottom of the bird cage with?

      flexible plastic that you clean off. Why are you looking for a wasteful solution?

      What will we do when we forget our umbrellas?

      Get wet.

      What will we roll up and smack our friends with?

      Hit them with the kindle. or better yet a panasonic toughbook. They wont forget that one and you wont damage anything important.

    • Re:Oh noes (Score:5, Funny)

      by diamondsw (685967) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @04:14PM (#27002855)

      > How will we start beach bonfires?

      Kindle boxes!

      > What will we line the bottom of the bird cage with?

      Kindles!

      > What will we do when we forget our umbrellas?

      Kindles!

      > What will we put under kitty's food bowl?

      Kindles!

      > What will we roll up and smack our friends with?

      Kindles! (bonus for harder smackability)

      > How will we "copy" things with Silly Putty?

      Damn, you got me there. I knew there was something wrong with this Kindle-utopia. :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nsayer (86181) *

      How will we start beach bonfires?

      Or, indeed, our charcoal grill chimney starters [wikipedia.org]?

      Fortunately, the end of newspapers arrived almost a decade ago at our house. The workaround I use for the chimney starter is that I hold a propane plumbing torch under it for a minute or so. It's actually more reliable than the paper was anyway.

      Now if only I could come up with something like a "charcoal starter stand" that would hold the chimney starter over a natural gas flame for a minute (plumbed from the house gas lines), that would be really convenient.

  • by fantomas (94850) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:23PM (#27002069)

    "(Silicon Alley Insider recently calculated that the New York Times could save more than $300 million a year by shutting down its presses and buying every subscriber a Kindle)."

    Third world labourers wage bills significantly lower than those in developed countries: your company will save money by closing down local presses and giving people output from developing countries.

    More news on this channel shortly, don't look away!

    • Indian citizens should dress up as americans and wear makeup and body padding to look like us too. That way they could do short clips of themselves grinning inanely while they describe whatever horrific shooting of a loved one they have just witnessed because they are overcome by the novelty of being on TV. CNN can then dispense with covering actual events and truly outsource the "bollywood-news". All actual current events could then safely shut down in the USA and we can stop shooting each other.
    • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:47PM (#27002473)
      In your world, are cellphones a ploy to put bike messengers out of work?
  • Costs or Price? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:25PM (#27002093)

    Their costs may drop but are we going to see a reduction in price? If the Music industry is any indication we'll pay more for the 'ability' to use the Kindle.

    Vinyl records were large, required manufacturing and shipping. MP3s only require bandwidth and a server. (Which isn't free, but much cheaper, and scales up much better). With the whole TTS issue I'm guessing that the Printing industry is going to copy the Music industry (and Video industry)...

  • As a Heads Up (Score:5, Informative)

    by value_added (719364) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:25PM (#27002109)

    For anyone interested, Jeff Bezos [wikipedia.org] is scheduled to appear tonight on Charlie Rose [charlierose.com] on your local PBS [wikipedia.org] station.

    No doubt, he'll spend most of his time talking about Kindle.

    • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:41PM (#27002365) Homepage

      Jeff Bezos also appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart a couple days ago. Jon gave him a hard time about how you have to pay $359 just for the device and another $10 per book (some of which are DRM'ed). Mr. Bezos didn't have a good response.

      What I think he should have pointed out is that The Daily Show interviews many authors and it would really be nice to hear about a new book, download it, and start reading it in minutes rather than wait a few days for it to arrive in the mail.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        it would really be nice to hear about a new book, download it, and start reading it in minutes rather than wait a few days for it to arrive in the mail.

        Yeah! Fuck you, patience.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stewbee (1019450)
        I saw the episode also. I think Jeff's answer was as good as he could give. He was upfront about the fact that it was up to the publishers about their chosen DRM policies. I would rather him have been upfront and honest about this than to deflect the answer. Honesty like this is refreshing. He was not trying to hide anything.

        Additionally, from interviews that I see on the Daily Show, John Stewart can sometimes be a bit overbearing so being able to get some of the points you would like to as the interview
  • The "free" online version of the NY Times contains a minimum of three animated advertisments per article and sometimes more. It takes a few seconds to download an article. Its OK when I read 20 or 30 articles on the average day. But its more like 100-150 on Sunday. I can read the newsprint version in half the time then and frequently buy it then.
    Kindle currently uses a paid-subscription model instead of ads. And quite a pricey one for the Times at $14 a month. I'd go broke if I got everything I read
    • by icebike (68054)

      > Kindle currently uses a paid-subscription model instead of ads.

      Oh Yeah, that will last. Riiiiight!

  • why it costs so much. Amazon and E Ink need to recoup their R&D costs. At $150 million for those costs, it might be a while before anyone considers lowering the price.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      The Motorola F3 [motorola.com] has a (fairly rudimentary) E-Ink display, and only costs about $25 for an unlocked handset.

      If they can get these things in a lot of devices, the $150mil R&D should be easily recoverable. Remember that the Kindle also includes a wireless modem, storage, and a decent amount of processing power.

  • by icebike (68054) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:27PM (#27002127)

    > What we've got here is a technology that could be saving the world $80 billion a year,' Wilcox says."

    Really?
    What happened to the 80 billion worth of printers, loggers, paper mills, transport, and fish-wrappers? Did they all go on Welfare so we can ship their jobs overseas to the Kindle manufacturing countries?

    News print is a renewable resource. Is the Plastic in Kindle?

    You can look around the ads (or read them as you see fit) in newsprint.

    Will you be able to do that on the Kindle when corporate sponsors for media grab control of the device and make you stare at an advertisement for 6 seconds prior to viewing the content of a story?

    Kindle might be great for books, but remember, its principal reason for being is to enforce DRM, to keep the book you bought on ONE device, to prevent sharing, or even transfer.

    Netbooks is where mass media is going. And once you have a netbook, who needs a Kindle.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rhsanborn (773855)
      As a Sony Reader owner, I appreciate eInk reading significantly more than reading large amounts of text on a back-lit screen. It just feels easier on the eyes.
    • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:48PM (#27002479)
      Icebike,

      You make a good point about DRM and closed systems.

      However, your first point about loggers and paper mills is lost on me. Is is my moral duty to buy paper books so a logger can keep his current job? Was Henry Ford a bad person because he destroyed the demand for blacksmiths in the United States?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537)

      Netbooks is where mass media is going. And once you have a netbook, who needs a Kindle.

      Kindles do have some features that your netbook probably doesn't. For one, it's very light, thin, and doesn't require you to open it like a clamshell device. Second, it has electronic ink, which lowers power consumption and supposedly is much easier on the eyes. Also, I've read that you get free wireless internet (via cell phone networks) to download books and such wherever you are.

      Now I don't know whether Kindles will ultimately do very well, but they aren't the same sort of device as a netbook.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by merreborn (853723)

      once you have a netbook, who needs a Kindle.

      They're not comparable. Your average netbook has a battery life measured in hours. The Kindle's battery lasts over 30 hours. In addition, people report that the display is much more comfortable to read for long periods.

      And of course, the kindle is smaller and lighter, and includes free 3G internet access.

      Different tools for different jobs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054)

        So after stating that they are not comparable, you proceed to compare them??

        You make far too much of mere temporal technical issues. Display technology, battery run time, and form factors change all the time. The netbook does so much more than a kindle.

  • DRM for books :( (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They've already tried to put DRM on these things, what makes you think they'll stop? This is just another attempt at turning book ownership into the same thing music ownership has become :(

  • hrmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:30PM (#27002203)

    I've not yet had a chance to check one of these out. As I understand it, the look and feel of reading the eink display is just like reading bright white paper fresh from the laser printer. I've never had problems reading text on computer screens for long stretches but many people say it causes eye strain for them.

    I'm curious as to how this technology scales. It boggles the mind to think it took that much time and money to develop but now that they have it, how cheap can they make it? Could they get the readers down to a more reasonable cost? And what about the books? I have no problem paying a buck or two for a rental like getting a movie out of a DVD kiosk -- I only have the dvd for a limited time, would have to pay again if I wanted it later, and have nothing to physically show for it. I feel more possessive when talking about books, especially books with DRM. DRM, unless you hack it, means your purchase is as impermanent as a rental and renting a book for $9.99 is a pretty damn expensive proposition.

    This also brings us back to the issue of resale. There are so many books available on Amazon for what essentially boils down to shipping and handling. I can find even recent books for 75% off the cover price. If physical books are no longer printed or printed in far smaller runs, this means that the secondary market collapses. I can't borrow a book from a friend after they read it. I can't sell the book to a bookstore when I'm done. If my friend wants a copy, he's paying $9.99 the same as I did.

    I don't know how this is all going to shake down but it'll certainly be an interesting fight.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by timeOday (582209)

      If physical books are no longer printed or printed in far smaller runs, this means that the secondary market collapses.

      As a fellow book cheapskate I agree that is a little frightening. Hopefully the efficiency of electronic delivery, combined with the market forces of supply and demand, will force e-publishers to lower their prices after a book is a few months old. (Though I realize this has been a long-running issue with iTunes with many objecting to graduated pricing.)

      If nothing else, look at it thi

    • Re:hrmmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by zenyu (248067) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @05:20PM (#27003877)

      I've not held one nor seen one update the screen, so I can't speak to those attributes. But I have seen the screen and it is nothing like black text on bright white paper. It's like black text on drab gray paper, it's too low contrast to have any appeal over a printed book. If the reader was priced at $9.99, and a had large selection of $1-$2 books were available (pot-boilers and other commuter fare), I think it would take over the world in short order, but it's just not nearly as user friendly for most people as a book. For blind people and those with the kinds of motor function impairments that make holding a book or turning the pages difficult or impossible it is probably a great improvement, so I wouldn't say it will have no market after the fad fades. And it is of course possible that the display quality and price will improve greatly in the next year or two.

    • Re:hrmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EricWright (16803) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @05:42PM (#27004223) Journal

      My wife's Kindle showed up yesterday. I was blown away by the display. At one time, it looks like a fake image plastered on top of the case AND like an actual printed page. Watching it redraw the screen is the only time you realize that this isn't a static picture. There's absolutely no flicker in the foreground or background.

      She read hers for a couple of hours last night and only put it down when she nearly fell asleep. I think it's easier on the eyes than any other electronic device I've seen.

      As to the price tags, yes, new books are typically $9.99, but they have a large back catalog. My wife found several short stories for $0.45 each, and some other, older novels in the $4-5 range.

      [disclaimer]I'm not an Amazon fanboy...[/disclaimer]

  • The winner of the "ebook" competition is going to have to emulate Apples iTune "dollar-store" pricing. Thats when people decide the convenience trumps free. I get most of my reading material free online or libraries now. I can see where Kindle is more convenient, but not willing to pay the high content prices yet.
  • Don't want one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @03:39PM (#27002345) Homepage

    Sorry, but as cool as I think the concept of e-Ink really is, I can't get past the fact that native Kindle books are tied to your Amazon account. The Kindle represents an attack on the first sale doctrine, and I refuse to support it to the tune of $400 plus the price of crippled books.

  • ob. xkcd (Score:5, Funny)

    by prograde (1425683) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @04:27PM (#27003035)
    I'm a little amazed that no one has linked to yesterday's XKCD. [xkcd.com]
  • Good, but no cigar. (Score:4, Informative)

    by RedCuber (1487889) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @05:11PM (#27003739) Homepage
    I have a Sony eReader, and a 1st Generation Kindle. Doubtfull i'll be buying this new Kindle. The Sony is rubbish. The buttons are in the wrong place, you have to deal with it's leather case and the books available are few and far between. The Kindle however.. is a breath of fresh air. I love how it hangs off the Verizon network and downloads very quickly. It even feels good holding it - next page, back etc.. all in the right places. This won't replace the modern book. Here's the scenario: Techies - if you're reading technical books 9/10 you'll be scribbeling on them, highlighting passages, drawing circles etc.. as references to future projects or deployments. You'll then potentially go "Hey dBag - read this" to a colleague. They take a beating - Kindles do not work well with this. Vacation - i took my Kindle to a beach in the Indian ocean (Zanzibar) over xmas, and Kindles do not like the sand. It still works, but i was very cautious with it. It was GREAT not to have to hold pages back becase the wind was blowing it. Big fan of Kindle, but by no means a replacement for good old time-tested paper and ink. - RC

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