As Sony lifted the lid on its latest e-paper tablet — the gargantuan 13.3-inch, $700 DPT-RP1 — the Japanese tech titan also quietly launched a new joint venture (JV) in conjunction with E Ink Holdings, the Taiwanese company behind many of the world’s popular e-paper products, including e-readers.
E Ink’s history dates back to 1997, when it was spun out of MIT’s Media Lab. Its e-paper technology was subsequently used in a range of products, including Sony’s e-readers, before it was acquired by Taiwan’s Prime View International (PVI) in 2009 for $215 million. PVI later renamed itself as E Ink Holdings.
Sony, via its Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation subsidiary that was set up in 2015, has now revealed that it’s working with E Ink in a JV that will be responsible for “planning, designing, developing, manufacturing, selling, distributing, and licensing” a range of products that use e-paper displays.
“Sony has worked on e-paper technology with E Ink for over a decade,” said Terushi Shimizu, representative director and president at Sony Semiconductor Solutions, in a press release. “Through this long-term partnership, we share the same vision with E Ink together to proliferate the use of e-paper.”
The new JV will be headquartered in Taiwan, while a Japanese subsidiary was also registered this month. Sony and E Ink’s respective subsidiaries own around 70 percent of the JV’s shares, with a number of other VC firms making up the remaining ownership. The total amount of paid-in capital at launch will be 420 million New Taiwan Dollars, which amounts to around $13.7 million (USD).
Though Amazon’s Kindle is perhaps the most well-known brand that uses e-paper technology, Sony was actually an early e-reader pioneer, and was the first to commercialize an E Ink reader via the Sony Librie in 2004. By launching an official joint venture with E Ink, rather than simply partnering, the duo are pooling their collective areas of expertise in manufacturing, product development, and marketing to bring a new swathe of e-paper products to market.
E Ink holds many advantages over LCD, AMOLED, and other similar displays that are now commonplace in smartphones and tablets, the main one being that the product requires less power and thus lasts much longer on a single charge. And for industries that are simply trying to cut down on paper usage, Sony has also developed the Digital Paper app that makes it easier to convert websites and other documents into PDF form, while letting the user annotate and share them with colleagues.
In other words, not every display requires deep and detailed graphical capabilities, and this is the market Sony and E Ink are going after. The duo haven’t given any indication as to what kinds of products the joint venture may be working on, but say they will “aim to create new electronic paper display products and systems and grow the market of e-paper based solutions.”
“E Ink is very excited to deepen this partnership with Sony through the JV and honored to have such an experienced board member to provide guidance to the JV,” said E Ink president Johnson Lee. “With the strong support and collaboration between E Ink and Sony, we believe the mutual efforts will lead the JV to a significant business growth.”