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Old 07-23-2008, 01:52 PM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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The Mobileread Interview: Karl McGoldrick, CEO of Polymer Vision

Last week I got the chance to briefly sit down with Polymer Vision CEO Karl McGoldrick and chat about the upcoming rollout (no pun intended) of the Readius, the early days of rollable displays, their potential effects on traditional e-book readers and mobile phones, and the direction his company is taking things in what could be the coming era of e-paper. Talking with Karl was definitely a high point for us, check it out.

Thank you for having the time to chat with us.

Thank you! First of all, let me say just one thing, Mobileread is a fabulous site. Congratulations. It's probably the central place to go to right now.

Thank you. Yeah, well, we do our best, it's a lot of fun. Let’s start with a quick backgrounder on Polymer Vision and the Readius.

In 2006 we made an agreement with Philips to get polymer electronics technology out into the market. Polymer Vision needed to be a small dynamic company able to move quickly. We agreed the best way to move forward was to spin out and to make it independent. Also in 2006, we managed to get an external investor to put 21 million euros into the company. Once we had that, in 2007, we could start focusing on the industrialization process that included reliability and quality testing, which is very important to bringing a first product to the market. We also acquired a fab in the UK, Innos Ltd., which is now a Polymer Vision subsidiary owned by our company, and where the rollable display is being produced.

Various prototypes, such as the PV-QML5 reference design and the later Philips Concept Readius, were created to demonstrate the rollable-display concept in mobile applications. While the display specifications were similar to the Readius – they were all five-inch with a QVGA resolution – the prototypes were based on an earlier generation of E Ink’s ink film with fewer grayscales, slower refresh rates and an inferior contrast ratio.

Another difference setting the Readius apart from its prototypes is how its display wraps around the device as opposed to into it. While visually charming, the wrap-up into a small cylinder inside the prototype casing had early testers worry about the sturdiness of the plastic material.

Is the Readius durable?

Polymer Vision is the display company; the Readius is our first commercial device. The display the Readius uses today is the same we’ve been doing extensive tests on; these tests were according to standards in the mobile market.

To demonstrate its mechanical lifetime, we have machines that constantly roll the display in and out. We’ve rolled it over 25,000 times without a sign of degradation.

If I kept folding a material, I’d think that eventually it should show a folding joint.

You are right, you would imagine that. If a material is bent too far it will not return to its original shape. But by fixing the roll radius of the display in the Readius (to 7.5mm) we avoid this problem. In all the roll tests we did, folding joints never appeared.

Also, I think someone on Mobileread mentioned it, on the Readius samples we showed at the Mobile World Congress, a curved area was visible in the display close to the hinges, because display and plastic parts did not fit correctly. This has been solved with new mechanical parts that better fit the dimensions of the display. With current samples the display is completely flat.

So the Readius is ready for the market.

Yes. The Readius is the first of its kind and we see a lot of comments about form and design. As this first product is marrying technology with product for the first time, we’ve learned an enormous amount as we’ve gone through the process. Would we have done it differently today? Could we change things? Of course we could, and we’ll probably address many of the typical questions people are putting; but, my goal in life is always to keep focused on what you have. If you constantly try to change things, you’ll never come out.

The future looks also superb. We have given a few hints over the past months. Obviously we work very closely with E Ink. E Ink’s material is excellent, and what we’ve already demonstrated earlier this year is an e-paper display with 254dpi, the highest resolution ever shown. What we’ve done is tell the world that E Ink can be brought to this level. And we didn’t do this with standard technology, but with a rollable display.

Is the Readius going to be competing with other e-book readers?

I think this is a very good question. I like to think of it as complementary, to help grow the e-book industry. If people want a larger display with certain other factors, there are plenty of beautiful e-book readers out there (I don’t need to name them, you know them all). And then – this is my personal belief and what Polymer Vision is all about – the real mainstream solution in any mobile industry is to find something that fits into your pocket. Of course the dilemma with PDAs and pocket devices is that you don’t want to be concerned with small screens, not being able to read in sunlight, or a quickly dying battery.

What we’re really looking to do is squeezing in between the two. We solve the problem for those people who really are on the move a lot and who depend on having access to greater volumes of information.

The Readius is also the first e-book reader with world-wide connectivity.

It won’t be restricted to certain countries?

The Readius customer will get a product with a solution that is tied to the SIM card, like a subscription plan. As I am currently in discussions with operators, details are still sensitive information. There will be various deciding factors to consider, like data usage, roaming tariffs, etc.; ultimately at the time of launch we will have a very clear picture of which countries we can offer a very clear solution. And the reality is, anybody can buy the Readius; but then you’ll have to take the responsibility to check the usage costs. So technically, there is no issue. I recently gave the Readius to a person from another company, and I got an e-mail from him the following day saying that he took his regular SIM card, stuck it in, and as he just stuck it in he had a text message from his wife popping up on the Readius display.

It won’t be SIM-locked?

Well, it is one of the areas I am working on. But my ultimate goal is that, whatever else, the solution will be very easy. I want to make it as easy and transparent as possible for the customer to start using it.

How much is it going to cost?

This is a very sensitive topic at this point. There are a number of parameters at play and we are still negotiating with mobile carriers and retailers. What I can tell you is that I am aiming towards something which will make the Readius attractive to the consumer.

Could the Readius be someone’s only mobile phone?

No, probably not. That is why we very much focus on e-reading and data content. I know you hear some people say, well I only need one product – and ultimately we will get there, we will have large rollable displays, eight-inch with full video, color, touch screen, etc., and then we will have the opportunity to say, OK, I take it all in one device. The reality today is that there is a market where many people have multiple devices for different purposes.

Can connectivity be switched off?

Yes, of course. You can turn it off, or you can decide that it is not pushing to you all the time and only does it when you want to pull content.

Is the battery replaceable?

No, it is not.

Will content providers help you broaden your Internet portal?

We are in discussions with providers about filling the portal with different content and services that will be available to Readius users.

And will it be possible to buy DRM-protected bestseller books?

Yes, I can definitely say yes. I cannot say much more because I am under confidentiality agreements right now until the announcement is made, but obviously, one key success factor for the Readius is to be able to download bestseller books.

The reason we are working very closely with the content providers is because it is essential that the content that gets to the Readius is specifically formatted for its unique user interface. Having said this, all the content providers we are working with also provide content to other products; and if something comes to our Internet platform, Content World, and downloads content out of another product, that’s perfectly OK, too.

People are tired of new e-book formats. Will you introduce a new format?

No, and I totally agree. I am tired of it too.

Will other people be able to write programs for the Readius?

Just hearing you ask the question makes me excited. Yeah, obviously this is what we really really want to do. I have to stress the fact that the Readius has a unique user interface and porting to this user interface is the main aspect that has to be considered. We have an SDK, and we are constantly working on that. The ideal solution would be to create a black box where you can port something through that, like Java-based or whatever, and adapt your software for the Readius. I think this is one of the areas that your forum, Mobileread, is superb for, having discussions around it and thinking how to extend its functionality.

Will you be at the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall?

Yes. We will present the Readius in the Forum Innovation, Wednesday 15 October at 10am.

Thanks so much for your time.

Thank you.

Links:
Readius.com
PolymerVision.com
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Old 07-23-2008, 01:58 PM   #2
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Wonderful. Thanks, Alexander.
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Old 07-23-2008, 02:01 PM   #3
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wow, some very exciting news in there, thanks for the sneak preview ! i can't wait to see the finished product. you should ask him for a test unit and take a lot of photos !
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Old 07-23-2008, 02:09 PM   #4
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Mr. McGoldrick seems to know what he is talking about. Excellent! And now, where is the exclusive hands-on preview?
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Old 07-23-2008, 02:32 PM   #5
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Thanks Alex, and thanks Mr. McGoldrick. This sounds very exciting!

I would say looks very exciting, but we will have to wait for the hands on review, won't we
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Old 07-23-2008, 02:43 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Taylor514ce View Post
Wonderful. Thanks, Alexander.
PH, please put on some clothes. I've invited some people from work to see this page and device about a possible use for such an item in our clinic. Vicky will find you hilarious, so on second thought, keep the coconuts.
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Old 07-23-2008, 03:05 PM   #7
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Actually, I don't want to hijack a news thread with silliness, so let me get nominally on topic:he mentions an SDK and a strong desire for third-party, generative applications. I can think of no better community to beta test that than MR. We have coders, designers, interface specialists, power users, casual users. I think you could make a persuasive plea for a couple of units to pass around!

Last edited by Taylor514ce; 07-23-2008 at 03:30 PM.
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Old 07-23-2008, 03:44 PM   #8
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Very interesting, indeed. He says that he views the device as ancillary, and not the only device one will use. That brings up a real issue: suppose I want to leave my 7-9" device on my night table and carry only the Readius around, how can I have the two synchronized so that while moving around I would read on the Readius but at home I would use my larger device?
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Old 07-23-2008, 04:11 PM   #9
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Thanks for the exciting news Alexander....
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Old 07-23-2008, 05:25 PM   #10
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Great stuff thanks Alexander and Karl.

Looking forward to seeing the device hit London sometime soon!
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Old 07-23-2008, 07:31 PM   #11
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That was a great interview and i agree completley with the notion of having MR as a testing ground for the sdk. Hope it won't be to expensive, maybe subsidized on a cheap mobile plan
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Old 07-23-2008, 09:42 PM   #12
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Sounds interesting. Why though did you include the term "DRM-protected" in the following question: "And will it be possible to buy DRM-protected bestseller books?"

I'm very glad to hear they will not introduce a new format! :-)
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Old 07-23-2008, 10:08 PM   #13
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Thanks, Alexander and Karl. Very pleasing to read.

I'm possibly a little disappointed a little about it not being able to be used as someone's "only mobile phone", but then, I hardly ever use my mobile phone, and then only to call or receive calls, so perhaps it's not impossible. Regardless, the device has always impressed me in concept and design, so I look forward to its actuality.

Cheers,
Marc
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Old 07-24-2008, 04:45 AM   #14
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I think Readius can be your only eBook reader, so you could replace conventional eReaders with it. But you can't replace your smartphone or PDA with any eReader:-) It's more comfortable to read eBooks on eReaders than on smartphones (the battery lasts much longer, no problems with sunlight). And it's more convenient to call with a smartphone than with an eReader:-) That's why "many people use multiple devices for different purposes", as Karl said.
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Old 07-24-2008, 05:20 AM   #15
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I think Readius can be your only eBook reader, so you could replace conventional eReaders with it. But you can't replace your smartphone or PDA with any eReader:-) It's more comfortable to read eBooks on eReaders than on smartphones (the battery lasts much longer, no problems with sunlight). And it's more convenient to call with a smartphone than with an eReader:-) That's why "many people use multiple devices for different purposes", as Karl said.
Aye, so I expected, but it's not a PDA or smartphone I want with the Readius. Just the simple ability to dial any number (and keep a store of phone contacts) or receive a phone call is sufficient for me. Can this do that? No ability to remind me of birthdays or receive MMS messages, or play MP3s, or pass the time with Solitaire, or browse the web, is required. Just make and receive phone calls (with perhaps a simple contacts database...I'm even okay not being able to edit the contacts database on the phone itself - that it has to be done by sync'ing).

Cheers,
Marc
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