HN Theater @HNTheaterMonth

The best talks and videos of Hacker News.

Hacker News Comments on
Thinkpad X230 with a "E-Ink" display at 30fps

PC DOODLE · Youtube · 467 HN points · 1 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention PC DOODLE's video "Thinkpad X230 with a "E-Ink" display at 30fps".
Youtube Summary
EDIT: Sold out. Email [email protected] to get on a waiting list for kits or complete units.
Due to popular demand, we are building a limited number of these for sale: https://www.ebay.com/itm/324580061130
HN Theater Rankings
  • Ranked #8 this month (apr/may) · view
  • Ranked #15 this year (2021) · view

Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this video.
Apr 19, 2021 · 467 points, 216 comments · submitted by pcdoodle
mettamage
Let's create some market demand here (and hope it goes anywhere).

I want a transflective display.

If any tech company reads this and wants to change the world: getting this in the hands of people means that many more people have the capability of sitting outside. This means more vitamin D intake. More vitamin D means improved mood (a lack of vitamin D could lead to depression [1]).

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/

codezero
Thinking of market demand - this guy hasn't even sold the three he built for $666, which seems really decent for a full system already ready to go. I'm tempted myself but wouldn't get much use out of it because I am deeply embedded into Apple and I'm Ok with that, I use my reMarkable tablets to scratch my e-Ink itches.
rasz
Build for ~$300, sold for >$600.
sudosysgen
Three were already sold, with only one more left.
codezero
Ah, I guess it just took some time :)
Tade0
I was surprised to note that my Asus G14 has a somewhat similar thing going on:

https://wringing.it/transrefl.png

Low res image to not show too much of my data, but this is the screen at minimum brightness with the sun shining on it. Text is a little blurred, but legible.

My previous laptops definitely didn't have this, but then again I switched to this one here in 2020 after almost seven years.

devindotcom
You can see this in other LCDs as well. It's not deliberate AFAIK, the direct sunlight bounces off the back layers and causes the active RGB filters to be visible at certain angles.
wffurr
I think the G14 just has a matte display with fairly high brightness. It’s not actually reflective; nowhere near as crisp as the laptop in the video.
mleonhard
Blurring doesn't protect information. Next time, just open a wikipedia page full-screen and take your photo.
tyler109
You should join our eink community: we are working on an open source eink laptop. Join our Discord server: https://forum.ei2030.org/t/welcome-to-the-ei2030-forum/7
TekMol
Why a laptop and not just a mobile monitor?
yoz-y
What would be an advantage of that?
selfhoster11
It can be used as a PC display, which I'd kill for (figuratively) as long as it's affordable. If it's $200 or more, that's not what I consider affordable.
TekMol
To develop a laptop is a much bigger goal than developing a monitor.

And everyone has different taste/priorities when it comes to laptops.

I would like to put the monitor on a stand behind the laptop so it is on eye height.

Qwertious
E-ink monitors already exist. Look up the Dasung e-ink monitor.
TekMol
That might be an option. Have you tried them?
tazjin
I have one and use it outside regularly (e.g. [0]), it's pretty amazing!

There's some open-source tooling[1] for it which can control screen features like brightness/refreshes/rendering modes/... and I've set it up[2] to work with my unprivileged user so that I can bind these features to keys in my Emacs.

With these screens you want to use light themes, and use tooling to improve contrast on websites (a friend wrote a Firefox extension[3] which is amazing for this).

[0]: https://photos.app.goo.gl/eGgGYR7ecBqv9gqy8

[1]: https://github.com/leoluk/paperlike-go

[2]: https://cl.tvl.fyi/c/depot/+/3029

[3]: https://github.com/adisbladis/einkmode-firefox

yoz-y
Since such a screen would be most usable outdoors, I wonder about the setup. I guess if it'd be light and thin enough it could be put on top of the screen in that case? Or would you have a separate stand for it?
TekMol
I would think a seperate stand. So I can put it behind the laptop and get it to eye height.
hollander
If you have some kind of overlay screen you can have both worlds. But I was still under the impression that E-ink was the only option. Today I learnt about transflective screens. I hope they catch on. I would buy it.
Tepix
You can already by a 13 inch mobile e-ink monitor. There's the Onyx Boox Max series starting with the Max2 (the current model is the Max Lumi) with HDMI in and the Dasung Paperlike monitor. They are pricey, however.
devn0ll
Absolutely fantastic! I saw the post on Reddit and I immediately thought "WANT IT".

Black and white in direct sunlight? And color in the shade, development dream this thing. (At least for me that is)

Shame the company behind it does not really exist anymore.

amiga-workbench
The PixelQI IP was acquired by someone else, but I'm pretty sure they've just sat on it.

I would kill for a 12.1" 1440x900 QI panel for my X201.

voxadam
The Pixel Qi IP is apparently now owned by Tripuso Display Solutions.[1]

[1] https://www.tripuso.com/

techdragon
Are they even in business? I mean that site looks like they don’t even want customers...
pcdoodle
Tried calling 6 months ago. Number is dead.
bogwog
Maybe someone in Georgia can drop in and do a wellness check
rbanffy
The best way to find that out is to build a transflective LCD screen. I'm pretty sure they'll be in business only if someone tries to make something.
einpoklum
> I'm pretty sure they've just sat on it.

Ah, the magic of intellectual property ownership, supposedly helping to promote technological progress.

Is this US-registered IP?

me_me_me
You don't want that! You want a thinner lighter laptop with tiny battery and shitty keyboard. Trust us on this, we are professionals.
craftinator
I just spit toothpaste everywhere while reading your comment, thanks for that.
blagie
The problem is lack of standardization. My desktop is decked out the way I like. That's different from how you'd like.

I'd obviously buy a high-quality high-res reflective display for my laptop. I wouldn't swap out the rest of my laptop for a random laptop with a high-quality high-res reflective display.

But you can't just swap laptop components, except for sometimes SSD, RAM, and wifi card.

If there were an industry-standard 13" and 15" laptop form factor with swapable components like a desktop, there would be a market for eInk displays and other oddballs. You could stick them in your HP, and Ivanka could stick it in her Lenovo. I'd buy a:

* Keyboard with eraser dongle

* Overbuild, rugged case (think ToughBook). I don't mind the weight.

* Motherboard with two M.2 slots (for RAID), ECC memory, and lots of ports

* High-res outdoor readable display

* High-quality microphone and camera (I don't care about speakers)

And stick it all together.

I'd never buy a Toughbook as-is, since the display doesn't have enough resolution. I don't like a lot of the workstation/gaming style laptops either, mostly since they use a ton of power, which leads to fan noise, heat, and other annoyances.

At the end of the day, without being able to customize, the thinner laptop with shitty keyboard seems to be what I want.

me_me_me
> At the end of the day, without being able to customize, the thinner laptop with shitty keyboard seems to be what I want.

See, I told you :)

You can have any laptop you'd like "so long as it is black".

throwaway81523
Anyone else here old enough to remember the Mac Portable? It had a monochrome reflective (no backlight) display fast enough to display video (a rarity at the time) and worked great in sunlight. Apparently it wasn't so great in low light. There was a backlit version sometime later, per wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_Portable

photojosh
Yes, my parents had one and it was our only computer from 1991-1995. Sadly teenaged me thought it would be good to pull the then-obsoleted machine to bits. It was a good learning experience but I'd rather still have it intact. :(
Causality1
Transflective screens are a vastly underappreciated technology these days. Back in the 00's basically every PDA came with one as standard. I don't know why we just decided we didn't need them in the smartphone era.
floatboth
They're not the best for multimedia, that's why. But for strictly informational displays they're really nice. I like the one on the Pebble Time watch.
snthd
>every PDA came with one as standard

including the N900

foobar33333
This video is an example of why. It looks crap and has no color. I have no problems seeing my phone in the sun and it looks stunning. The HN crowd hypes up tech that real users don't want and exaggerates problems that real users don't have or don't care about.
citrin_ru
I'm personally fine without color on a device I can use outdoors. Text don't need to be colored to be readable. I tried to work on a laptop outdoors - even in shadow in sunny weather I had to set brightness close to maximum which drains battery too fast.
techrat
It's in color. It just appears more black and white when in direct sunlight.
vbezhenar
I just tried to use my iPhone on direct sunlight. It does not look stunning. It is barely usable.
_jstreet
I agree, I'd rather not have to turn the brightness up to 100% so that my battery life drains faster to be able to view my phone in direct sunlight.
gsich
Turn 180° and the problem is solved.
floatboth
My OnePlus phone in direct sunlight not only pushes the physical OLED brightness to the max, but seems to also apply some filter to the image that makes dark colors brighter, e.g. a dark gray keyboard almost turns into lighter gray. Does help with visibility.
bananicorn
This is the same type of screen used as in the pebble smartwatches[0], right?

Honestly, I wonder why that technology hasn't been used for anything like the Thinkpad in the video - I'd love to have such a device!

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_(watch)#Hardware

Woung1938
The most plausible explanation is that the tech is patented to such a degree that producing this kind of solutions is just not economically viable.
mbar84
Considering how long ago the OLPC project was, hopefully the patents are running out soon.
Qwertious
Patents aren't the main problem here; the lower refresh rate and resolution mean not many people want it.

Fewer people wanting it means lower economy of scale and higher prices, which means even fewer still.

Qwertious
The most plausible explanation is that it's expensive because there's no economy economy of scale, and that there's no economy of scale because people don't want to pay extra for a worse quality screen even if it has a slightly better battery life.
AshamedCaptain
Always with this excuse, but I really doubt it. There's just a million manufacturers of this or technology similar to this. Many of them have failed and people usually would only notice and care _after_ they failed.
pareidolia
No, the Pebble used a Sharp Memory LCD, a different transflective technology. It can only do greyscale while pixelQi uses prisms to separate the colors. That's why you get color with backlight and greyscale out in the sun.
ryukafalz
> It can only do greyscale

Eh? My Pebble Time has a color screen, and it sure is transflective.

amiga-workbench
"transflective" is just a broad description of displays which take in light and reflect it back, implementations and drawbacks vary.
corgihamlet
The pebble time has a display like an old Game Boy Color
AshamedCaptain
And so does Pixel Qi. They're both LCD, after all.
kiririn
I can speak only for the Pebble Time Steel, but it is leaps and bounds better than the gameboy color.

I would kill for an equivalent display in a laptop - saturated colours and eink readability in direct sunlight with 30hz refresh

Twirrim
The slower FPS and slight blurring is making me nostalgic for the old "luggable" portable computers from the 90s, and early LCD display laptops, though it's no where near as bad as they used to be.
IshKebab
This isn't e-ink. He even says "it's kind of like e-ink" in the video.
Qwertious
On top of that, while there are e-ink screens that can refresh at 30Hz, they aren't bi-stable. In other words, you have to give up the main benefit of e-ink in order to get half the refresh rate of a normal LCD.

The fundamental problem behind e-ink refresh rates is that there's an inherent physical limit to how quickly you can shake your ink particles up and down without damaging things.

yc-kraln
I have often thought that a device purpose-built for music with one of these transflexive screens would be absolutely fantastic. Even the 10" screens are big enough; Two screens for a folio would make a fantastic device for any musician to travel with.

Now I sort of want to build one. Adafruit doesn't stock them anymore ( https://www.adafruit.com/product/1303 )

Anyone know where I could get two?

guffaw5
I just bought one on ebay[0]. I've been having trouble tracking down a compatible driver board though.

Edit: Apparently this[1] is the matching driver board.

[0] https://www.ebay.com/itm/Pixel-Qi-10-1-PQ3QI-01-LCD-Display-...

[1] https://www.ebay.com/itm/Kit-For-PQ3QI-01-HDMI-DVI-VGA-LCD-L...

TekMol
Are these types of displays available as external monitors which are powered by USB?

Would love to work outside and put the monitor on a stand so I don't have to look down.

cfjgvjh
I know Dasung makes the Paperlike, which is an E-ink external monitor. It's terribly expensive though, at about a grand for a 13 inch one.
einpoklum
You had me at Thinkpad X230. Although the 220 keyboard is better IIRC.
bigpeopleareold
This is what I thought too ... I am giggling over this ... :

Them: "Woah, you just tip the screen computer down and it can project an immersive 3D holographic experience? That you can interact with directly? That's just so amazing!"

Us: "Woah, it's a X230? Even cooler if it had an X220 keyboard!"

rvense
I think someone managed to stick a 220 keyboard onto a 230
icey
There are quite a few people who have done this (myself included). The process is pretty straightforward since they have nearly identical chassis. r/Thinkpad has a lot of details on how to do it. The toughest part is covering the right connections on the ribbon cable for the 220 keyboard since the pinouts are slightly different. It is a fun little project and the keyboards can be found pretty cheaply on eBay.
rasz
dont you need a bios(smc) modded firmware flash to make all the keys work?
icey
Yes, you're right. I forgot about this step because I also corebooted my Thinkpad and replaced the NIC at the same time as keyboard. For the keyboard, I used these instructions: https://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Install_Classic_Keyboard_on_x...

(Corebooting was not needed to flash the bios, it just seemed fun at the time)

pinusc
Yes, however the process is very easy today and can be done entirely software-side, thanks to 1vyrain [1]. So you don't need to flash the BIOS using an external programmer, just run what amounts to an exploited/modified update. I recently did this on my T430, and could not be happier about the keyboard.

[1]: https://github.com/n4ru/1vyrain

xwdv
My demands for an e-ink display aren’t even that high. I just want some kind of e-ink that can be used with vim and terminals that will be easier on the eyes, I can use a separate monitor for graphical applications. What are my options in 2021?
anthk
Instead of Windows I´d setup a black and white environment under OpenBSD/Slackware with the System4 GTK3/2 theme and some monospaced icon set.

Also, CWM with a black/white setup it's dumb easy, and xterm has an XTERMM termcap setting for the TERM variable, so that's a solved issue.

Also lots of old X11 games will work fine, among text adventures/games and Game Boy titles.

Finally, X11 has a monochrome switch, really useful for these cases (I think it adds dithering to a b/w display):

       Xserver -render mono
Under OpenBSD, edit /etc/X11/xenodm/Xservers and add to the last line:

       -render mono
lmilcin
Perfect machine for working on a beach.
hobo_mark
Wonder who'd want to do mentally demanding work under hot sun.
lmilcin
Me?

It would be stupid to keep my wife and kids home during summer just because I need to work. So they sometimes travel without me.

I have actually been working remotely for many years. It is sometimes possible to move stuff around so that I have mostly reading for a week or two and then I could do it anywhere I want.

I have experimented with traveling while working remotely with some mixed results.

awiesenhofer
Related, I really hope someone will make a laptop with TCLs Nxtpaper* - or alternatively Apple starts offering their Nanotexture option on Macbooks.

* https://m.gsmarena.com/tcl_nxtpaper_brings_new_display_techn...

potiuper
Does it work with Linux?
pcdoodle
Yes and it works better than Windows because you can turn the backlight completely off for maximum battery life.
shrimp_emoji
Oh, you can't turn the backlight completely off in Windows?

(I had no idea; I only use Linux on ancient ThinkPads, since... well, that's what they're for! :P)

pcdoodle
Yes, it seems to be a driver issue under windows, however it's less that 0.1w at min brightness
Snoozus
Looks like transflective screens were available in some Panasonic Toghbooks, the internet says CF-19 MK5-8
cycomanic
I had a notion ink tablet 8 years ago or so. Being able to use the tablet outside in the sunlight was definitely cool, however the display quality (uniformity, dead-pixels ...) was quite poor. I wish there were more tablets or even laptops of this type later.
vcdimension
Are there any instructions online about how to fit a pixel qi screen to a thinkpad x230?
rasz
Its not plug and play, You will need a displayport LVDS controller.
bluedino
If the X220/230 had came with an IPS screen, preferably 1440x900, I would have never switched to MacBooks

(I am aware the tablet version came with an IPS screen but that is a different model)

rasz
x230 non Tablets also came with IPS https://forum.thinkpads.com/viewtopic.php?t=127949 I know because I have a few, all have blemishes on panels at this point.
AshamedCaptain
And the Lenovo IPS screens on the X220(t) were notoriously bad anyway. The ghosting being so extreme I used to think my xterm had transparent backgrounds enabled (imagine my horror when I realized I didn't).
rhim
Are there major differences in battery life?
pcdoodle
Same as running the laptop with the brightness all the way down (Windows) and backlight completely off (Linux). This is specific to the X230.
foobar33333
One thing to note, this is _not_ an e-ink display. The quotes around e-ink should be replaced with "diaplay that looks like e-ink" There are no colored capsules in this screen which float around to create a picture. These are usually just regular LCDs with no or little backlight and a reflective backing.
floatboth
Transflective displays do seem to result in decent battery life, the Pebble Time watch is a good example. Though we do now have long lasting OLED watches – looks like running Android on a beefy CPU vs a tiny RTOS on a microcontroller is the bigger difference… buuuut still the Pebble gets away with a smaller battery than these OLED ones I think?
dreamlayers
The first video iPod has a colour transflective LCD. Why aren't there more colour displays like that?
andai
Super cool, I love these! Is this an old Pixel Qi display? Or is anyone still making them?
black_puppydog
The fact that this type of device is virtually inaccessible, short of DIY, is for me a prime example of market failure ever since I learned about transflectives.

Btw I'd opt to replace the "E-INK" in the title with "transflective" assuming HN folks know to tell the two apart.

atrus
e-ink displays and 3d printing have both convinced me that patents do more harm than good these days.
aeyes
This article has a lot of information about the Pixel Qi patents in the last section: https://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/the-rise-and...

Money Quote: "The Pixel QI license was picked up by John Gilmore, activist, philanthropist, and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He has released the patents under the Defensive Patent License."

AshamedCaptain
WHAT patents. ALL these technologies are about 40 years old. There are even mentions in this thread of the Game Boy / Color since they use very similar stuff.

There are few if any patents involved here -- the problem is that there is just no demand. The moment you show someone the flashy backlighted screen he will go for it 100% of the time and ditch everything else (think: there's a reason people "upgrade" their GameBoyAdvance's to a backlight).

Perhaps if you made a storefront directly illuminated by heavy sunlight...

monocasa
The gameboy (and GBC) screens are very different. They're normal LCD screens with a reflective and scattering layer behind them instead of a backlight. E-ink's technology doesn't apply to them.
zokier
The primary e ink patents also have already expired, they are from late 90s: https://patents.google.com/patent/US5930026
monocasa
That is _a_ patent, which is expired, but not the only patent, or the lynchpin of IP keeping people from independently making e-ink style screens.

I generally have rule about being courteous to our fellow HNers and not doing something that could be cited as evidence of willful infringement (and triple damages), but I'll forgo it in this one case with the disclaimer I'll have around it in order to help dispel the rumors going around here that somehow patents aren't at issue. There are also other patents.

= = = = = = A C T I V E P A T E N T = = = = = =

Do not look at this patent if you work in the space of computer display technology.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US9075280B2/en

= = = = = = A C T I V E P A T E N T = = = = = =

AshamedCaptain
Sorry for the confusion, I (as well as the rest of the people who mention it) mean (reflective) LCD overall (since the article is also incorrectly using "e-Ink" ).
monocasa
Ah, ok. That probably would have been clear to me if I had given your statements the benefit of the strongest argument you could be making. My bad, that's totally on me.
Qwertious
E-ink displays being held back by patents is a myth. Please either provide a source or edit your comment.
epakai
Why? The patent space around e ink is dominated by e ink corp over the last two decades. They're working on better driving methods, color displays, and new material compositions. Anybody entering this field is looking at licensing (expensive if current e ink prices are anything to go by) or navigating all of these recent patents to produce something competitive (good refresh rates, high contrast or color).

Starting in 2002 they've done lots just based on these citations of an early patent: https://patents.google.com/patent/US5930026#citedBy

Qwertious
>Anybody entering this field is looking at licensing (expensive if current e ink prices are anything to go by)

No, that's a result of low economy of scale. LCDs have a massive market, whereas e.g. big e-ink screens have such a small market they're hand-fitted. You're presupposing your conclusion.

I'm not disputing patents exist. I'm disputing whether they have a noticeable detrimental effect on the e-ink market.

I mean, ARM has a licensing fee (of 1c per CPU), but nobody sane would blame that fee for x86 beating ARM in the desktop world.

>The patent space around e ink is dominated by e ink corp over the last two decades.

I'm not sure what your point here is. Yes, they're putting a ton of money into e-ink R&D. They're patenting everything they come up with, because that's how you monetize your R&D so it's not immediately copied by your competitors without seeing a cent of benefit.

There are companies who have developed alternatives, such as Mirasol. That never took off, despite not needing any e-ink patents. This suggests that e-ink is sufficiently better than all alternatives that it's worth the patent cost - either because those alternatives were impractical, or because the patent fees for e-ink just weren't particularly cumbersome in the first place and the real problem lies elsewhere.

Which brings us back to the central issue:

Do you have any evidence that patents are actually causing problems in the real world, besides "patents exist, problems exist, one must be causing the other"?

make3
patents give motivation to companies to invest in research. without patents you possibly would have neither of those things.
naikrovek
can you please explain how you get from A to B with that?
fortran77
3D printers -- both resin and filament-- are everywhere and cheap today.

And there are many great affordable devices with e-Ink--I have several Amazon ebook readers that I use every day.

I'm not sure I was harmed by any patent.

Many of the things we talk about on Hacker News are covered by patents. Why do you want to shred a piece of the U.S. Constitution (assuming you're talking about U.S. patents) over eInk?

Miraste
I believe that was GP's point - 3D printers are cheap and ubiquitous because a patent on them expired in 2009. Before that they were expensive and had little tooling or support: useless outside large corporations, despite all the technology involved existing for years and years. I don't know the patent situation of e-ink but patent law was incredibly counterproductive in the case of 3D printing.
zokier
But things turned out pretty well in the end? That is the whole point of patents: they expire. You say the tech existing for years and years, but few years is very short time, even 20 years is not that long time. Just need a bit of patience.
robinsoh
> patent law was incredibly counterproductive in the case of 3D printing.

I don't work in the 3d printing industry so I don't have enough knowledge to know that with any level of confidence. It sounds plausible but not sure if it is true. That's why, I am curious whether you do, ie: do you work in the 3d printing industry? How confident are you that the recent proliferation was due to an expiration of a counterproductive patent (which one?) rather than just technologies, volume, demand, industrial production finally coming together and becoming mass market? Has there been any actual detailed analysis or study proving this? The reason I ask is not because I am opposed to the claim, rather I often see unsubstantiated claims like this go unchallenged for a long time. In the case of E Ink, I even saw someone blog that statement and they cited an HN comment about E Ink patents that I had challenged and the poster never responded, and then someone cited that very blog post in another HN comments so it became a circle of references where all the dots on the circle are unsubstantiated.

Miraste
I'm not in the industry, just a hobbyist, but this is well established. There are dozens of companies making printers, filament, models, tutorials, software, and innovations that legally couldn't exist while this patent was active. Universities, makerspaces, and small to medium sized businesses (and hobbyists) didn't have access to the tech because of it.

Here is the patent in question: https://patents.google.com/patent/US5121329A/en

And here's a short explanation of the impact: https://creax.com/insights/the-influence-of-patents-on-3d-pr...

robinsoh
> And here's a short explanation of the impact: https://creax.com/insights/the-influence-of-patents-on-3d-pr...

I read the article and came away unsatisfied. I was hoping to see a clear analysis like "here's an inventor who was blocked from producing his product by a patent infringement lawsuit" and here's a series of patent infringement lawsuits that blocked inventors from innovating. Instead I felt the main points were broken due to contradictory statements in the article.

They started with: "Commercialising these kits was actually an infringement on Stratasys’ patent but Stratasys did not stop this from happening."

Which contradicts: "Everything changed by the end of 2009, the expiration date of the famous Stratasys’ patent after 20 years."

I see that Reprap was commercialized in 2006 prior to the patent expiring which clearly contradicts above as well.

There's limited factual data in this article. Claims like "Everything changed" seem like strong claims that ought to be substantiated rather than defended using "feels right" kind of explanations.

Miraste
I don't think the level of proof you're looking for exists. There weren't any lawsuits because nobody started companies because they knew they'd be sued out of existence. I can tell you that Stratasys was aware of and leaning on the (open-source, non-commercialized) RepRap project at the time:

https://reprap.org/forum/read.php?1,13528

and that they're more than willing to sue small companies, even after their main patents expired:

https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/stratasys-lands-blow-in-...

They eventually settled that suit because the patents involved were a bit weak, but I doubt they would've settled if the earlier ones were still in force.

I don't know where you saw that RepRap was commercialized in 2006 but as far as I know that's not true. Here's a history of the project by its creators which puts the first RepRap-based company in 2009: https://all3dp.com/history-of-the-reprap-project/

You could probably buy pieces on forums before that but Stratasys wouldn't target individual forum posters with runs in the single digits.

Makerbot, Prusa, Creality, FormLabs, and the other big names in small-scale 3d printing are all post-2009 companies. Here are some more recent examples of patents blocking 3d printing: https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/15/how-expiring-patents-are-u...

The SLA (liquid) section is the most relevant; it mentions how FormLabs lost a lawsuit for building one early. Other companies didn't attempt to beat the patent, but Prusa, Creality, and Makerbot (ironically now owned by Stratasys) all began selling SLA printers shortly after the patent expired. I don't have statements from the executives that they waited because of patent issues, but barring that the situation seems clear.

fortran77
Exactly. I have two low-cost (Prusa) 3d printers going in my office lab right now. It wasn't until recently that technology, software, and infrastructure for filament and SLA supplies lined up to allow the current "explosion".

In the early days, Stratasys and others really did "invent" significant things in the classic sense of the word. We're not talking about "one click purchase" patents here. Allowing them exclusive use of their invention for a couple of decades didn't seem to hurt anyone.

Miraste
Cheap SLA printers couldn't have happened until recently because of the screens, but there's nothing in FDM printers that wasn't available in the 90s. Sure it didn't "hurt anyone," people don't need 3D printers, but it stopped a whole subfield of engineering from existing for twenty years. Personally I call that detrimental.

At least it's not as bad as the other IP protections. If the lawyers who brought us copyright law had gotten into patents, we'd be eagerly anticipating the launch of the consumer television.

fortran77
Nothing? What about the cheap and powerful single board controllers?
hakfoo
Even if you didn't have a free-standing cheap microcontroller, couldn't you do a "Winmodem" style scenario where the printer is a bag of dumb mechanical bits tethered to a PC doing all the heavy lifting in software?
rasz
You will like 1987 Atari SLM605/SLM804 Laser printers. They had no electronics inside other than the power supply. Instead a dongle was shipped with 19pin Atari ST DMA port (ASCI, very similar to SCSI) on one end, and 37 pin connector for the printer on the other. It contained two microcontrollers, Intel 8253 timer chip, Toshiba TC9142P dedicated Direct Drive Turntable motor controller :), bunch of buffers and some chips I cant identify.

https://manualzz.com/doc/7345398/atari-slm804-service-manual...

Unlike all the other printers up to late nineties there was no high level computing smarts neither in the printer nor in the dongle. It was a Software Defined printer fully controlled by Atari ST (computer UI froze during printing to maintain tight timings), just like post year 2000 HP LaserJet 1000 and later Windows "host based" non PCL printers. As a result of this Atari ingenuity you ended up with a combo of Atari ST computer, 640×[email protected] Hz monitor, DTP software (for example Calamus) and a Laser printer costing less than just the Apple or IBM laser printer alone, and as a bonus it printed 2-3 times faster.

So yes, 3D FDM printer at reasonable price was totally possible in late eighties leveraging cheap 16bit computers for control logic.

Miraste
You'd think so, and some printers like the Prusa Mini use newer 32-bit controllers, but a lot of the most popular models (other Prusas, most Creality models, etc.) use the ATmega 2560, which is an 8 bit controller that came out in 2006 and isn't much different from what was available in the late 90s. They didn't exist in 1989, but they weren't far off.
monocasa
Oh, we for sure had 8 bit microcontroller chips in 1989. A quick look back through old editions of Radio Electronics looks like you could buy an 8039[0] in 1989 for $1.95 qty 1. PICs were pretty nice back then too.

[0] - An 8039 is a version of the 8048 that was in the original PC keyboard, but rigged up with an external EEPROM for program code instead of the normal mask ROM. They were probably secretly 8048s that were programmed with some other customer's code in the mask ROM, but then fused off for whatever reason.

monocasa
The lynch pin FDM patent was 5,121,329 which expired in 2009; there were similar later patents in the space around SLA printing that expired in the five years following that. There's been plenty of analysis both from industry and academia that it was indeed holding back the proliferation of 3D printing technology.

Being in a adjacent field of other robotic control that utilized 3d printing for our own prototyping before and after the proliferation I can also confirm the patent licensing being a major impediment to proliferation of the technology. We had high enough margins that we could spend $100k on a 3d printer before 2009. But the field has been revolutionized since then from the democratization and even our own processes changed heavily once we could have a bank of printers rather than just one. Sort of like the change of a a company sharing a mainframe with a guy dedicated to keeping it going versus ubiquitous microcomputers.

Qwertious
3D printers aside (I don't know enough to comment), literally everyone I've seen who claims e-ink is held back by patents is either 1) speculating or 2) repeating hearsay and can't provide a source.

Regardless of the issues with patents in general, in the specific context of e-ink it's an unsubstantiated myth until someone provides some hard evidence.

E-ink patent speculation is especially problematic because everyone on HN agrees that patents are a problem, so it sounds truthy and people want to repeat it as an example of the evils of patents.

fortran77
Everytime "e-ink" comes up here in any context, we see people doing a hit-and-run post about patents, with nothing to back it up. I'm wondering what the real agenda is here. Is there some competitor trying to do some sort of astroturfing?
dmwallin
What competitors?
zokier
its just a meme, and people are bitter because they love the concept of cool eink gadgets that never materialized so they want to have some scapegoat.
Teever
Is it every time? It is something that I've only noticed about e-ink posts in the last two months or so. Prior to that I've always wondered why they were so expensive. The posts that I've seen regarding e-ink and patents seem to be very persuasive.
Qwertious
>The posts that I've seen regarding e-ink and patents seem to be very persuasive.

Have you seen any comment that provides actual evidence of causality between e-ink's failure to take off and patent encumberment?

robinsoh
> e-ink displays and 3d printing have both convinced me that patents do more harm than good these days.

I work in the display industry. Not for E Ink. But I have no idea what you're talking about. I see this claim about patents on e-ink repeated again and again. I don't know much about 3d printing so I can't confirm. But each time I've seen this patent claim about e-ink, I ask the poster/commenter what specific patent or patents or data they're talking about and thus far every single time they either go silent or get defensive or in rare occasions acknowledge they didn't know about it and just "felt" it was the case. So could you help me out and explain what data convinced you? You can see my comment history to see all my attempts to try to get at what is the actual truth.

FYI, in my experience in the display industry, the main driver of price at scale is the asymptotic cost of components and materials like TFT backplanes, glue, passive layers, coatings, Indium Tin Oxide. Low volumes are what all of E Inks displays except the ones made for Amazon. That matches up with what I see in the prices.

mensetmanusman
Are you in the US? Is there a display industry in the US for getting backplanes?
dmwallin
This gets into a chicken and egg argument. You are arguing that the level of demand is leading to the current price point, while complainers about E Ink argue that anti competitive practices lead to higher prices which results in a lower demand.

In a competitive market, both are actually true. The fact that there aren't really any major competitors to E Ink in that market indicates however that there probably is some sort of moat (whether it is IP, or otherwise)and that prices are likely higher than they would be in a more competitive market. There are a lot of signs that there is latent demand in the market and lowered prices would lead to an increase in total market volume.

robinsoh
> The fact that there aren't really any major competitors to E Ink in that market indicates however that there probably is some sort of moat (whether it is IP, or otherwise)and that prices are likely higher than they would be in a more competitive market.

I don't know what exactly you mean in the context of the display industry. What do you mean there aren't any major competitors to E Ink? There's tonnes of display products from lots of different vendors. Are you talking about the electrophoretic display industry specifically? If so, then even there there's competitors like ClearInk but its a niche space with low volumes. FYI, the volumes that E Ink reaches even for what is considered "high volume" by them would be considered unacceptably low volume by LCD manufacturers. Ask yourself a simple question. Are you as a VC going to invest a billion into scaling up an electrophoretic display tech startup that may take 10-30 years or would you rather pump that same money into another internet services? Even Amazon pumped billions into Liquavista and then pulled the plug on it after not being able to scale within the time frame Jeff had given them.

> that prices are likely higher than they would be in a more competitive market.

But how are you substantiating that? Do you have awareness of the costs of materials for electrophoretic panels? Are you aware of yield rates? I actually work in the display industry and I have no actual data on that and I would never be able to estimate even order of magnitude cost without knowing those key numbers. So how are you doing making that price estimation? Your claim is equivalent of looking at a sports car market and saying Ferraris would be cheaper if there were more competitors. I hope my explanation is clear enough to convince you of the fundamental flaws in the arguments being made claiming there is "some sort of moat".

xioxox
I have a Toshiba R500 - it's a machine ahead of its time - transreflective display, SSD, very light, long battery life, nice keyboard. Unfortunately the CPU and memory are limited, otherwise I would be using it today.
black_puppydog
Would you be willing to part with it and ship it to the EU? :) I've been hunting on ebay for these every now and again, but I'm not quite desperate enough to piece one together from the parts I can find.
macawfish
Well and there are large, high resolution full color transflective displays out there! It's really frustrating that these aren't available. My mental health would improve substantially if it were easier to work outside.
ohazi
Availability is also one of the principal problems with e-Ink, and is directly related to the patent issue. It is next to impossible to source e-Ink displays (even at outrageous prices), or to work with E Ink corporation in any capacity unless you are huge and are in a market they are interested in. Making another generic ebook and can credibly claim that you might sell half a million? Maybe they'll talk to you. Work for Lenovo and want to put an e-Ink layer in a trackpad? "We're not pursuing that market segment at this time." It's not an open market, and they haven't been interested in moving beyond ebook readers for the last decade.

Smaller designers who want access to the technology can't get it from a western company, because none are stupid enough to attempt to design a competitor while E Ink the company is still around to sue them.

Fairly recently we've started to see Chinese electrophoretic displays crop up, and I can actually get a devkit or buy them by the low thousand, because E Ink isn't going to be able to sue them in China. But you still don't see them designed into very many products sold in the west, because it would be easy for E Ink to stop the end product from being sold.

wjdp
If nobody can buy these displays, who is keeping the E Ink corporation in business?
varispeed
What is preventing someone from creating a display with the same concept as e-ink? This is not a new technology and the idea has been around since 70s.
macawfish
Transflective displays are different from e-ink though, I believe the term usually refers to liquid crystal displays:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transflective_liquid-crystal_d...

UI_at_80x24
In my experience the Palm Pilot Pro had the best view-ability of any electronic device (GameBoy being a close second) in (outdoor) full sunlight.
comboy
The title is very misleading, these are not even comparable.

Btw, why aren't transflective displays more poplar? They doesn't seem as technologically challenging as e-ink and there clearly is some market for rugged phones/laptops/tablets. It seems they would be a perfect fit for some construction site type of uses.

rbanffy
Yeah... The e-ink, combined with 30fps is very misleading. I guess most people would immediately know what it is with the PixelQi name.
nemetroid
I own an e-ink device, know how they work, but would have no idea what PixelQi meant.
ChrisClark
I really loved my Dell Axim long, long ago. Specifically because of the transflective display. The Ipaqs were only reflective, great in sunlight but needed a front light panel over the screen for use indoors, not always evenly lit. The transflective seemed to be the best of both worlds, reflective in sunlight and backlit for a more even light.
emteycz
Patents aren't part of the market, it's regulation.
black_puppydog
That's actually the fairest point of critique about my rambling that I've heard in a while, and I have been rambling about this since 2012. :D

That being said, the Toshiba Portege showed that a big manufacturer can produce these at scale if they want to, and they haven't continued with it. If someone here is willing to share stories from the trenches if that particular battle ground, I'm all ears. :)

dannyw
I really want this now. I'd pay $2k in a heartbeat.
guffaw5
The creator posted on reddit [0] that they are exploring making these commercially available (in small quantities). Maybe you could reach out and get one?

[0] https://old.reddit.com/r/thinkpad/comments/mtf3hf/thinkpad_m...

krupan
Thank you for this link. The discussion there on reddit is, sadly, way better than the one here.

Hacker News, RTFA before you comment. Don't comment if you don't really know what you are talking about. Please.

rasz
There is an ebay link with 7 available right in the YT description
guffaw5
Wow! 10 sold for ~$600 each!
cfjgvjh
Considering how expensive E-ink based products are, I'm not really surprised that it sold.
rasz
Its not e-ink. It a ~$110 transreflective screen mounted into ~$200 laptop using $50 converter, laser cut bezel and some ingenuity.
mtgx
Qualcomm has had this tech for about a decade, but failed to commercialize/improve on it:

https://www.theverge.com/2012/7/23/3178117/qualcomm-mirasol-...

fractallyte
It belongs to Apple now...

(https://appleinsider.com/articles/15/12/15/apple-has-taken-o...)

And Mirasol is a different technology than Pixel Qi.

chrisjc
Wow, I had no idea about this even though I was somewhat following the 'e-ink' technologies quite closely.

An ipad with a colored 'e-ink'/LED hybrid screen would be such a perfect tablet in my opinion (even though I've never owned an ipad).

bigfudge
It would require a major iOS re-write though. Designing for e-ink is a really different paradigm, both statically and in relation to UX interactions. I just returned an onyx boox note because although the hardware was quite nice, the UI was just garbage. I'm sure Apple could do it, but it does't seem very on-brand for them. I'm waiting of a delivery of an RM2, but I'm still not that hopeful that they have solved the problem of reading an A4 academic PDF. Yet another reason to kill off the commercial academic publishing industry — we can get proper epubs of papers!
mbar84
Please be aware that "market failure" is also a technical term in economics, relating to positive and negative externalities. Your use appears to be the (by now probably dominant) colloquial use.

I personally would not use this term, just as I would not use e.g. "to beg the question". I wonder if this phenomenon has a name, along the lines of "euphemistic treadmill".

black_puppydog
I use "market failure" colloquially I guess, yes.

I use it to mean that despite demonstrated technological viability by multiple vendors, and despite the devices providing a solution to the issue of actual portability beyond closed rooms, the market has failed to make these devices accessible.

IIRC one of the problems is that the benefit doesn't become obvious in "good" lighting conditions like a walmart building. In that way I'm putting much of the blame in this on the buying side of the market for making shallow, lazy buying decisions. But the producers are equally to blame here. Nobody made a serious first move, so no competition evolved, despite the availability of transflectives being technically governed by market forces.

mbar84
I don't know enough to judge the root cause. My ideological priors would make me look to blame the government granted monopoly patents on the display tech.
emteycz
Then I'd suggest to use another term, e.g. just failure.
goodpoint
"market failure" has various interpretations and objections:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_failure

The way black_puppydog used it fits the term quite well.

mbar84
https://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/marketfailure.asp

> A market failure occurs whenever the individuals in a group end up worse off than if they had not acted in perfectly rational self-interest. Such a group either incurs too many costs or receives too few benefits.

> Even though the concept seems simple, it can be misleading and easy to misidentify.

> Contrary to what the name implies, market failure does not describe inherent imperfections in the market economy

> Additionally, not every bad outcome from market activity counts as a market failure.

As I say, I think he's using it in a very much more colloquial manner: "I don't like the outcome of the market process", which is fine.

psychometry
Everyone who's tried to fight a war against language change has lost.
mbar84
Very true and for different terms we all are on battlefields waging a war that we mostly are not even aware we're in. As part of the mob, we just steadily walk over the minority who coined the term and plow them ever deeper into the muddy ground. Such is life... and death.

I still find it worthwhile to point out when somebody uses a jargon term from an academic discipline, so they maybe can leave the battlefield and its senseless slaughter and instead and chose some other formulation.

selfhoster11
> I personally would not use this term, just as I would not use e.g. "to beg the question". I wonder if this phenomenon has a name, along the lines of "euphemistic treadmill".

I intentionally use "beg the question" with the new meaning to do my part in cycling out the old meaning as quickly as possible. The "old" meaning is a waste of precious linguistic bandwidth, spent on a concept that is very rarely invoked (and could be just as easily invoked with something like "presupposes the facts", which is more intuitive).

If language is dynamic, then braindead vestigials should be bulldozed out with prejudice, especially when they tie up prime real estate.

balefrost
If you're after intuitive language, why not use "raises the question" or "leads to the question" instead?
mbar84
If a term is overloaded, and if the purpose of language is to communicate, then I think the better approach is to drop the term as a lost cause and switch to alternatives for both uses, rather than fight and endless battle. For the two meanings I use "raises the question" and "circular reasoning" or "the conclusion was already part of your original assumption".
andai
Mary Lou Jepsen (who created the One Laptop Per Child laptop also developed transflective displays for the laptop, which could switch between backlit color mode and sunlight-readable monochrome mode.

Later her company Pixel Qi even developed a screen with solar panels inside it, to charge the device while it is used outside. Pixel Qi is now defunct.

Today Jepsen is working on Clearwater, a non invasive brain imaging technology (an infrared headband which reconstructs a 3D image from scattered photons), which can be used for brain computer interfaces.

phonon
> Jepsen is working on Clearwater,

Openwater.

https://www.openwater.cc/about-us

macspoofing
>Later her company Pixel Qi even developed a screen with solar panels inside it, to charge the device while it is used outside.

That's such a pointless gimmick though. Solar panels works best when they track the sun or are at least angled properly. Between the very few times you'd be using your device outside in direct sunlight, and actually having those panels angled towards the sun, you're not going to be charging anything at any reasonable rate. Those panels are completely useless and just add complexity and cost to the design. If you really care, you can buy portable solar chargers real cheap but they are universally mediocre at best.

Why do stupid gimmicks like this? Why not have an efficient device and just charge it from the grid? Or, given that this was made for the developing world, charge it from a generator or a proper solar array or wind turbines ... or the grid (even developing nations will have a grid that functions at least most of the time)

Renaud
Cost is probably what killed that project, but it's not entirely stupid, although it would certainly be better with a foldable panel at the back of the screen that can be positioned optimally.

A 30x20cm laptop could get at best 12-10W of sun power with a solar panel on its surface.

You could build a useful laptop with the same spec as a smartphone with a standard 4000mA battery and need about a charge a day in normal use.

Since the exposure of your laptop to the sun would be suboptimal, you may only get 4W for say 5h a day, which seems fairly reasonable and is enough to recharge the battery every day.

Even on bad days, you would probably be able to use your laptop half of the time, which could still be a few hours and enough to make a difference to someone with otherwise no access to technology.

aj3
I imagine that in places where electricity is scarce, adults might have different priorities than charging kid's laptop. Maybe the idea is that you leave laptop open in sun if the battery dies and it charges without needing access / permission to use power grid / generators?
freeone3000
Give them a laptop and put the solar panel on the side? Even in the exact case you're mentioning, they're better as separate devices. (It wasn't done this way because the solar panel would be used for other purposes, but treating the user as hostile is the clearest sign that something has gone terribly wrong in your design process.)
macspoofing
>I imagine that in places where electricity is scarce

I think that's what most people in the west imagine and that's why this is a gimmick that resonates with well-meaning westerners. Besides the fact that developing world is a diverse place in all aspects (so the the stereotype you're imaging is wrong for the vast majority of the developing world), communication is such an ingrained human need, that communication devices like smart phones are everywhere.

But none of that matters. These panels just do not work well - or at least as well as you can expect given the surface area and whether or not there's enough sunlight. That's why nobody bothers with building them into devices. Besides you can buy little external solar chargers for real cheap. And the external ones are better than the ones built into the devices because you can angle them, and they aren't a failure point you need to worry about (that is, if they die, your device doesn't need to be replaced), and aren't limited to device size. Also, I don't know why you would want your electronics exposed to direct sunlight... Heat is not good for electronics.

Again, I support low-power, energy efficient devices. There is a very real use case for them, and not just for the developing world. But these gimmicks, like building in solar panels into the device, are dumb.

userbinator
Also, I don't know why you would want your electronics exposed to direct sunlight... Heat is not good for electronics.

Also UV. It'll destroy plastics rather quickly.

aj3
I am married to a teacher and can assure you that even in 'the West' there are kids without personal smartphone and without a single computer/tablet at home.

No idea whether heat aspect is worked around in OLPC somehow by carefully selecting materials used or whatever, my point is that making these laptops self-sufficient would indeed be useful (if at all possible).

initramfs
Definitely agree. There is a profit incentive to make laptops powerful but there is very little competition at the low end, unfortunately. I solar powered a microcontroller in indoor light just to prove that powering a computer is possible (96mhz is far more capable than even some early 486 PCs that ran Windows) , and not just a calculator. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ztj_MDNRcI

of course, powering a screen would require much more light, but it's not impossible if there was a full system re-development - from low power monochrome displays to light peripherals. Our group hopes to get a terminal to display on an e-ink, which seems doable: https://forum.ei2030.org/t/paperterm-project-definition-and-...

lostphilosopher
10+ years ago I had a laptop case with solar panels and an outlet. It worked well; could both extend the battery life and charge when not in use. Not mediocre, and I imagine things have improved? There may be better solutions for low grid envs, but this one is viable.
macspoofing
>10+ years ago I had a laptop case with solar panels and an outlet.

Do you think they would work better if they were built into the laptop screen? Because that's what OP was raving about.

You can get batteries and external solar chargers (they are cheap and come in any size you want) if that's what you want to do. Building them into the device is STUPID. For one thing, you would need to put your device in direct sunlight to charge them ... and heat is not good for electronics. Also, the solar array size will be limited to whatever size your device is, that is: "too small".

naikrovek
man, you've got some bones to pick with solar power, don't you?
macspoofing
No. I think it's a perfectly fine technology ... but it isn't a panacea and it doesn't make sense for everything that people are trying to cram it into. Case in point, attaching solar panels to a smart phone or a laptop screen. I've conceded (somewhat) that if you really want to, it makes far more sense to get external panels and just plug them in.
gandalfian
30 years ago I had a credit card calculator powered by a solar panel. Ideal pairing. Viewable screen in direct sunlight too thinking about it.
Renaud
Calculators need mere microwatts of power to function. A very basic laptop is in the tens of watts.

A difference of many orders of magnitude that you can't compensate by the size of solar panel on a small device.

supermatt
> A very basic laptop is in the tens of watts

The latest version device in question (the OLPC) is ~5W under normal usage and less than 1W when idle.

Im not sure about an integrated solar panel - im not sure i would want to keep my laptop exposed to the sun - but i was able to keep a 2015 macbook charged with a small solar panel while travelling (approx 4 hours a day of heavy usage).

Obv depends on time of year, location, weather, etc.

AshamedCaptain
But even 1W is several orders of magnitude greater than the average LCD calculator.
supermatt
Indeed, and an order of magnitude less than tens of watts.

And those tens of watts are still able to be powered by a panel no bigger than the form factor of the laptop (given 25% efficiency at 1kW/m2).

In fact a 5w laptop could be powered by around 30% coverage at that efficiency

But yeah, calculators don’t use as much power as a laptop.

numpad0
It’s interesting that electronic calculators are basically the only type of devices ever to have successfully powered by integral solar panels.

There are some electronic price tag products, wireless keyboards, decorative keychain tags, etc. that could work on solar only, but even those are rare.

e: Forgot digital wristwatches. They seem to work fine.

AshamedCaptain
And it's pretty simple to figure out why it's so for electronic calculators. I had one of these, a modern-ish one though, except that the solar panel was defective and never actually worked. I only noticed after 3 years of use. That's how much the builtin _half-discharged_ coin battery would last... and how useless the solar panel actually is... I would even guess they only put in the solar panel for the look.

You could probably power such a calculator from ambient radiowaves, using a galena crystal...

frosted-flakes
A lot of basic solar-powered calculators don't have batteries at all. Covering the solar panel will shut it off.
AshamedCaptain
Yeah, what I mean (and has been better put elsewhere) is that the consumption of your average calculator is so low as to be practically negligible (<1mW?), otherwise capable of running for years on a depleted battery. Which is why they may work from such a small solar panel, but at the same time it says nothing about the solar panel itself.
kn0where
And a lot of cheap calculators don’t even have real solar cells: https://youtu.be/uLTDuGhqE2w
drewzero1
I was going to mention watches! I love my Casio Tough Solar and wore it daily for five years. It never reported a charge level less than 'High'. If it didn't say on the box that it was solar, the only thing I would have noticed is that the battery never seemed to run down.

The solar charging is probably the biggest feature I'm missing in my smartwatch, but at least it has a (low-power, daylight-readable, always-on) transflective screen.

jschwartzi
One of the really high-end Garmin watches have solar charging: https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/641375

According to their docs it increases the battery life by up to 3 days when you're not using the GPS.

drewzero1
Good to know, thanks! The price is a bit more than I can justify at the moment though, you weren't kidding about the high-end part. That's worth more than my car!
macspoofing
>It’s interesting that electronic calculators are basically the only type of devices ever to have successfully powered by integral solar panels.

Because they are ultra-low powered devices. If tiny solar cells can power that kind of device, then it can also be powered through kinetic energy (i.e. user's movement) as well ... Or you could spend $5 and put a standard watch-type battery in there which will last you years. So even there solar panels are a bit gimmicky. But ok, do whatever you like.

frosted-flakes
On a larger scale, there are a lot of flashing LED road signs or radar speed warning signs that aren't connected to the grid. Instead, they are powered by a small solar panel with a battery for at night. Even simple stop signs on wooden 4x4 posts have these.

At least in my area, the speed warning signs tend to get moved to a different location a couple of times a year, and not having to run any wiring probably makes that significantly easier.

lixtra
Solar powered parking meters seem to be another example.
csharptwdec19
> wireless keyboards

I really like the Logitech K700 solar keyboards, with two caveats:

- In a couple of mine, the included battery seems to have lost the ability to keep a charge well before you would expect (i.e. a year). This is a bit of an annoyance in that it is a rechargable button cell, not your run of the mill AA/AAA sized NIMH/Lithium bit.

- The build quality on these as far as sturdiness/etc isn't great. And if it ever gets 'flexed' too much, you wind up with broken traces internally, leading to issues where the juice doesn't flow one way or another unless you flex it back in the right way.

I love them in the office, but at home they just don't handle the use of clumsy roommates.

goldenCeasar
Many places in my country have no access or reliable access to the grid and kids have to walk many miles to go to school, in this pandemic with the remote schooling this made millions of kids to miss classes or even leave school.

I can think something like this would be very useful for these kids as chargers and solar panels wouldn't last long in the hand of childrens.

goodpoint
> Why do stupid gimmicks like this?

This are very harsh words. Do you have evidence to back the claim that the designer did not do proper research?

Perhaps they had reasons to believe that a self-contained device would survive being handled by children, while an external panel would get lost or broken.

ant6n
Fewer moving parts? How much power does a low powered laptop need while in transflective mode? How much power does a solar panel produce that’s not facing the Sun?

One could cover the front and back of the screen panel on solar panels this way, if it could create a device that’s mostly independent from a grid or extra gadgets to plug in it could be nice. But yeah, maybe an external little solar array would be more flexible.

macspoofing
>How much power does a solar panel produce that’s not facing the Sun?

Nothing.

>But yeah, maybe an external little solar array would be more flexible.

And those little solar mats are mediocre at best. They just don't work very well. They take forever to charge and require strong direct sunlight. But hey, if you want to use them, go ahead. They are still better than having them built into the device.

Semaphor
At a metal-festival in Northern Germany I was at in 2019, there was a guy with a 1-2m² solar mat. It was enough to charge his phone and play music. Doesn’t seem too horrible.
ant6n
So it appears modern smartphones have a power consumption of about a Watt (see cousin post). Assuming a transflective display, that laptop could use a similar amount of power. Assuming a 20cm x 30cm charge area and 1000Watt/m2, you need to only capture 1.7% of the energy of the directly incident sunlight [1]. Or assuming your panel has 10% effiency, you need to get 17% of direct sun light light onto the surface. Thats a fair allowance for clouds and weird angles and whatnot.

     [1] 1W / (20cm*30cm*1000 W/m^2)*
einpoklum
If you have non-utilized surface area / volume in the screen part of your laptop, why not put solar panels in there? Yes, their reception might not be optimal due to angling constraints, but if they're light enough, they might still be useful to have. So you don't know for a fact that it's a gimmick.
II2II
> Why do stupid gimmicks like this? Why not have an efficient device and just charge it from the grid?

I used to have a laptop with dual batteries, so one could swap one battery out with another to have an uninterrupted power supply without having access to the grid. Very few people need an uninterrupted power supply while away from the grid, but some people do. That is why such a design existed. Something like an integrated solar panel may fill a similar niche.

It is also worth noting that a technology should not be dismissed simply because the first iterations appear impractical. If we took that attitude, many of the things we enjoy today simply would not exist. Just think of personal computers from the late 1970's and early 1980's. Few people used them since they were not very practical. On the other hand, that seed of a market both financed the development of the machines we use today and directed the development of the technology towards something we would want to use today. (Put another way: if people did not use that impractical technology in their homes, it likely that computers would remain the tools of large institutions.)

rzzzt
IBM/Lenovo themselves supported dual batteries at one point with the Ultrabay expansion slots: https://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Ultrabay
akvadrako
You don't need dual batteries for that, just an external USB-C powerpack. And they are pretty common.
II2II
Different time, different context.

This would have been around 2010, when powering anything with USB was relatively uncommon. Some USB peripherals required a separate power supply or dual USB connections in order to provide enough power. Devices that charged via USB typically provided a special USB power adapter in order to facilitate faster charging.

Even today, dual battery compartments have marginal utility. Since it is built-in, it offers extended battery life without carrying around extra modules. Spare batteries are mildly more convenient to carry around (no extra cables). Mostly though, it enforces user replaceable batteries.

nogridbag
Dell used to offer dual battery bays in its business line like the Latitude C840:

https://youtu.be/9XkeTCIC1TA?t=453

Side note: The clips holding in the batteries were the number one failure mode on those laptops.

gentleman11
Brain computer interfaces will be life changing for about 1% of users, but unbelievably invasive for the rest after Facebook etc gets on board (possibly via oculus?)
userbinator
One Laptop Per Child laptop also developed transflective displays for the laptop, which could switch between backlit color mode and sunlight-readable monochrome mode.

In practice, mono mode was just barely readable in bright sunlight, and the colour mode was a grainy mess for anything with fine detail due to the lack of true RGB pixels[1]. I knew someone who had one of those --- it was more of a cute toy than anything actually useful, and that was at the time when tiny "netbooks" were still common.

[1] http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Display

dleslie
I have two XO-1s; they're great to use while sitting on the end of a dock, hacking in a remote terminal.

Literally no other screen I have comes close to how readable the XO-1 is in bright light.

FlyMoreRockets
I also have a couple XO-1s and agree, the transflective screens are excellent. My Kindle Paperwhite has a more readable E-ink display, but isn't _that_ much better.
BugsJustFindMe
I had an XO-1 and your description is really selling the display short, it was much more than just barely readable in bright light. Yes resolution was fairly low on the display, but it was first generation technology and the entire laptop cost only $200. OLPC made many questionable decisions, but the screen was good tech. I remember wanting transflective screens in other devices for a long time before finally giving up hope.
blacksmith_tb
Agreed, the screen was one of the best things about the XO-1. Transreflective displays do live on here and there, I have an Amazfit Bip [1] which uses one.

1: https://www.tomsguide.com/us/amazfit-bip,review-5629.html

jschwartzi
Garmin watches also have transflective displays. I've never needed the backlight since I've always got either sunlight or a headlamp.
HN Theater is an independent project and is not operated by Y Combinator or any of the video hosting platforms linked to on this site.
~ [email protected]
;laksdfhjdhksalkfj more things
yahnd.com ~ Privacy Policy ~
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.