Despite the idea of electronic paper display (EPD) was conceived in the 1970s, E Ink only became famous after being adopted by the world’s first eReader launched by Amazon – Kindle in 2007. Renowned for its sleek design, the technology had since dominated the eReader market and is seen in Kobo eReader, Taiwanese Readmoo, and Chinese iFlytek e-Reader lineups. E Ink also launched color display technology and expanded to note-taking devices, smartwatches, and even smartphones. The Chinese TV maker Hisense released the world’s first color e-ink display smartphone.
Now these low-powered and eye-protective electronic paper displays are also widely adopted by electronic shelf labels (ESL) and retail signage, banners in hospitals and advertisements, signage for pedestrians, and .
Who is the maker that has taken over 90% of the market share, and how is ePaper slowly entering IoT and retail industries?
E Ink is originally a spin-off from MIT Media Lab and to commercialize electronic ink and EPD technology which was later acquired by Prime View International, a Taiwan-based TFT LCD company, and rebranded the combined company as E Ink.
The Covid-19 pandemic and following lockdowns affected every business, person on the planet. With most people constrained to work or study at home, a surge in demands for electronic devices, including eReaders and eNotes is being observed as a result. Last year, the eReader supplier – E Ink had subsequently reached its highest recorded revenue in nine years. However, given the long product cycle of eReaders, and a relatively small market with the close competition with iPad that came into existence in 2010, E Ink saw the glass ceiling of the eReader market early on. Products enter shipments in at most 20 million units per year.
Areas for applications need to tolerate slow refresh speed but enjoy low-power consumption and paper-like features
The electronic paper display (EPD or electronic ink (e-ink) is a significant development in display technology due to advanced features, such as readability under different lightings (both outdoor and indoor ambiance), low power consumption, durability, free of blue light, lightweight and simple composition. Note that owing to the fundamentals of EPD technology, it doesn’t respond as quickly as other display technologies, rather, it takes up to hundreds of milliseconds. So areas, where update rates up to this speed are acceptable, are candidates for E Ink applications.
Since 2013, E Ink has been searching for opportunities in various display technology, such as introducing the Kaleido™ Color technology and entering other display areas. These areas include retail and transport, such as bus stops and railroad information boards. E Ink-based electronic shelf labels (ESL) are actively being used in retail areas, such as grocery, pharmacies, department stores, and clothing shops. The electronic paper display market was valued at US$2.6 billion in 2020 and is forecast to reach US$6.0 billion by 2026 with a compound annual growth rate of 15%.
E Ink aims for a 50-50 split of product coverages in the IoT industry versus eReaders
In the past eight years, customized ESL shipments have reached 400 million units, especially during the pandemic, renewing the price for over 2,000 stores takes merely hours via a central system to complete. Roughly 50 outdoor electronic paper displaying banners have currently entered the testing stage.
In April 2021, the company announced the establishment of the EPIA to build a complete ecosystem for electronic paper displays. According to Dr. FY Gan, President of E Ink, eReaders that previously accounted for 90% of the company’s revenue is now down to 60% as electronic ink-powered products gain wider variety. In the future, E Ink aims for a 50-50 split between IoT applications and eReaders/eNotes.