They’re getting out of making Mirasol screens and will instead be licensing the technology to other manufacturers. (Seriously, how did this not get reported everywhere?)
Mirasol was just one of the many topics discussed, but TBH I’m not all that interested in the many chips (3g, 4g, Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth, CPU) made by Qualcomm; I just want to read about the Mirasol screen tech. Here’s what Paul E. Jacobs, the CEO of Qualcomm, had to say about Mirasol:
With respect to QMT, we’re now focusing on licensing our next-generation mirasol display technology and will directly commercialize only certain mirasol products. We believe that this strategy will better align our updated roadmap with the addressable opportunities.
Given today’s news, it would seem that Qualcomm is having insurmountable issues in manufacturing the screen tech themselves. And that means that they’ll start looking for someone else to do it for them. Good luck with that.
From what I can tell Mirasol is not now nor has it ever been an easy screen to manufacture. And that’s according to a source at the company who used to make the demo Mirasol screens for Qualcomm.
Way back before Prime View International bought E-ink and then changed its name, PVI acted as a manufacturing partner for a number of companies. They used to do small production runs for Qualcomm to produce the Mirasol screen (this was before Qualcomm’s own factory was up and running). According to my source PVI could never get the QA rating high enough for the screen to be cost-effective for the consumer market; too many screens failed the final checks.
And that production issue likely carried over into Qualcomm’s own factory. In checking back over my notes, I see that one of my sources with Pocketbook told me in April 2011 that the reason Pocketbook hadn’t produced the Pocketbook Mirasol eReader was that they lost “about half of the screens in mass production”.
I don’t think Qualcomm has seen the success they expected when they bought Iridigm (the original developer of the Mirasol screen tech) back in 2004. That set Qualcomm back $170 million, and the subsequent 8 years of development and production costs would probably have been sufficient to invade a small 3rd world country.
Note, though, that this comes as not much of a surprise. The latest I had heard was that the South Korean bookseller Kyobo, Qualcomm’s first partner, was discontinuing its only Mirasol eReader. And from what I was told at SID Display Week, Qualcomm’s new factory in Taiwan was facing yet another delay before it could get to making the Mirasol screen.
At this point the Mirasol screen is used on a handful of Chinese ereaders, and in spite of what the population would have you think the Chinese ereader market is actually quite small. That’s not a good sign that Qualcommwas able to make enough screens for the US or European markets.
But I’m not sure that imminent death of the Mirasol eReader is all that big of a loss.
Mirasol is one of the several revolutionary screen techs that came and went in the past few years, and like most of its competition there were hopes that it might succeed in the consumer market where Mirasol’s low-power operating costs might provide a great enough benefit to justify the high cost of making the screen.
PlasticLogic is another example of a failed screen tech. As impressive as it was when I saw it a couple months back, their screen was simply too expensive to sell well. After a couple failed devices, PlasticLogic decided to pursue a plan to license their tech, not make it.
Unfortunately for just about everyone, over the past several years battery life improved while most chips in consumer devices got more energy efficient. This largely killed any need to go with a more energy efficient screen.
And yes, consumer devices were the holy grail of the screen manufacturers. While screens do go on many another device in many market segments, tablets and ereaders were potentially the single largest market anywhere.