The technology developed by Plastic Logic for e-readers and other applications is really rather good – flexible displays with very low power sounds and looks like it’s a real breakthrough but faces an uphill struggle because its investors will demand a return on their money before economies of scale kick in.
With a string of investors including Amadeus Capital Partners, Oak Investment Partners, Bank of America, Polytechnos, Intel, Dow, Morningside, O-BASF, Nanotech Partners, Siemens and Yasuda, it has also obtained private financial funding for a production facility of over $100 million – it has total funding of $200 million.
As I listened to the presentation from Plastic Logic at the International Electronics Forum last week, a UK CEO was playing with his latest toy – an Apple iPad. That comes with full colour and sells for around one third of the price of Plastic’s QUE Proreader – a black and white model will cost around $750 when it’s released in June – a colour version may be available at the end of next year. CEOs might well be able to afford iPads and QUE Proreaders - they're not for the plebs, that's for sure.
When question time came, I asked the rep from Plastic Logic how a price tag of $750 could be justified when essentially people wanted an affordable medium to read books, magazines and other content. The answer wasn’t very re-assuring – the QUE Proreader is being aimed at business people and content agreements have been signed with a number of providers including the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, The Sporting News, and some high end business and scientific magazines.
Hossein Yassaie, the CEO of Imagination Technologies, came to Plastic Logic’s aid. He asked whether if the fabrication facilities were big enough, could the price of the flexible display be brought down sufficiently to make the technology really affordable. The answer to that question, said Plastic Logic, was yes. Later, on a moving walkway at London Heathrow, Yassaie said that he believed that one day such displays would cost pennies.
The real question, of course, is when that day will dawn. Companies like Apple and Amazon with products like the iPad and the Kindle are at the leading edge of e-reader technology – they’re relying on people thinking that the coolness of having a fancy gizmo will give somewhat immediate returns on investment. But what I want is a sheet of flexible electronic paper with good connectivity and which costs closer to $50 or $100 than $500 or $750. As Plastic Logic pointed out, economies of scale – that is to say a bigger fab churning out more of this flexible display – would allow it to do this in the future.
When Intel first started out touting netbooks or UMPCs, they were $1,000 plus when they should have been $200.
Plastic Logic, we hope, is in this game for the long haul. Its founders include Stuart M. Evans, Professor Sir Richard Friend – the Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge, and Professor Henning Sirringhaus, the Hitachi Professor of Electron Device Physics at Cambridge University.
Perhaps it is time for the co-founders of the company to put some pressure on their high profile industrial backers to really get production moving. At only several dollars for the Bill of Materials (BOM), such products would really put the horse before the cart. This isn't the time for caution, it's the perfect time to grab the concept and run with it.
All stories from IEF 2010