Tag Archives | Plastic Logic

This Dumb Year: The 57 Lamest Tech Moments of 2010

Progress–to swipe an ancient General Electric slogan–is the technology industry’s most important product. Its second-most important product? That’s easy: blunders. In fact, you could argue that the two are inextricably intertwined. An industry that was more uptight about making mistakes might be more cautious and therefore less inventive.

It’s also sometimes difficult to tell where progress ends and blunder begins, or vice versa. If you believe that Google Wave was a bad idea in the first place, you might think it was smart of Google to kill it this year–but if you thought Wave had promise, then it’s Google’s early cancellation that’s the gaffe.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that while the industry’s lame moments are…well, lame, they can also be important. Last year, I summed up a decade’s worth of tech screw-ups and came up with 87 examples. This time around, I’m covering only a single year–but I found 57 items worth commemorating. No, tech companies aren’t getting more error prone; I was just more diligent. And as usual, there was plenty of ground to cover.

Thanks once again to Business 2.0’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business and, of course, to Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards for inspiring this. Here we go…

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Que ProReader Nevermore: Plastic Logic Gives Up

I kind of figured I was going to type these words sooner or later: Plastic Logic has canceled its Que e-reader. The company began demoing its gadget almost two years ago, well before the iPad era. But after multiple delays, it’s decided that the fast-evolving e-reader market has rendered the Que obsolete before it ever shipped. It says it’ll be back with a “second-generation” reader. And it’s finally figured out that it’s a bad idea to say when it expects to ship it.

(Sorry, Plastic Logic: You don’t get to call a product “second generation” when the first one didn’t ship. The first Que turned out to be a failed prototype. The next one, if any, will be the first-gen version.)

The Que had an oversized E-Ink screen, a focus on business users, a slick user interface, and unique plastic-electronics technology. Plastic Logic never explained why it couldn’t release the thing when it thought it would–it may just have been that the company was far better at drumming up hoopla than it was at setting a realistic development schedule for an ambitious gadget. In retrospect, it would have been a lot more efficient if the company had decided it would need to start over back on January 27th, the day Apple announced the iPad.

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Plastic Logic's QUE: Late to the Point of Irrelevance

Plastic Logic began talking about building e-readers using its plastic-circuit technology as early as 2000. It began demoing a reader in 2008 and did a full reveal of its QUE ProReader at CES 2010 back in January, saying it would ship it in April at the steep starting price of $649. Then it said it would ship on June 24th. Which was yesterday. Now it’s postponing it “a bit longer” to improve it further, and has canceled all orders.

(The company isn’t saying what exactly it’s trying to improve about the gadget; when I tried one back at CES, I liked the look and feel of the user interface, but found it to be alarmingly sluggish.)

In normal times, delaying an interesting product by a few months might not be catastrophic. But just about everything about e-readers has changed since CES: We’re now in the iPad era, and the best-known dedicated e-readers now sell for under $200. The QUE still has some theoretical virtues–a big screen, long battery life thanks to the use of monochrome E-Ink, a focus on business use that includes content licensed from famous brands, and that slick interface–but it’s tough to imagine it thriving whenever it does appear. Certainly at $$649-$799, and maybe at any price.


Plastic Logic Postponed

Plastic Logic, which was planning to ship its Que e-reader in April, has concluded that it needs more time to put the finishing touches on its creation. It says it’s postponing release until summer in order to “further fine-tune features and enhance the overall product experience.”

If the delay indeed ends up being a few months at most, it doesn’t seem like that huge a deal. If I were a prospective customer, I’d surely prefer to wait a few months for a rock-solid Que than get a buggy one right away. Besides, a little extra time doesn’t mean much given than the company started previewing the Que in September of 2008 (and in fact was talking about using its technology to make e-readers as far back as 2000).

The real question about the Que and all other e-readers that use monochrome E-Ink screens is whether they’ll survive the technological sea change that seems inevitable when Apple releases the iPad on April 3rd. Even setting aside the fact that the iPad is a multi-function device with a color screen, it’s likely to have a major impact on folks’ expectations for tablet-type gadgets: Judging from demos, it’s is blazingly fast. no E-Ink-equipped device is anywhere near zippy, and the Que felt especially sluggish when I tried a pre-release version at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. (The software was still a work in progress at that point, so the version that Plastic Logic releases may be quicker–and the delayed releases makes all the more sense if the company is tweaking it for better performance.)

Unlike most e-reader makers, Plastic Logic is a real technology company with its own innovative manufacturing process and factory. It’s also got a unique focus–it’s catering to business professionals–and the slickest user interface I’ve seen on any E-Ink device to date. It’ll be interesting to see how Que fares–even if we have to wait a bit longer to find out.


Plastic Logic’s Que E-Reader: Revealed, Finally

Plastic Logic has been teasing us with previews of its e-reader–now dubbed the Que proReader–for sixteen months. This morning at CES, it formally announced the product on the show floor, complete with demos of the final version and full details on features, pricing, and availability.

As Plastic Logic has said all along, the Que is based on its proprietary plastic transistor technology (which allows for a large, lightweight, glass-free display), has a screen the size of an 8.5″-by-11″ piece of paper, uses a touchscreen interface, and is aimed at businessfolk who “need to read” rather than those who read for pleasure. It’s signed content deals with business-oriented media brands such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fast Company (and my old employer IDG), it lets you drag and drop Microsoft Office documents and other business files from your PC to the e-reader, and it has extensive tools for annotating and organizing documents. It also lets you view your Exchange calendar and has a complementary BlackBerry app which lets you transfer files to the Que.

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E-Ink Gets More Appealing

Marvell LogoI’ve been writing about e-readers from the moment that Amazon released its first Kindle. And when I do, I usually express my reservations about the E-Ink screens used by the Kindle and all of its direct competitors. Yes, they’re glare-free and run for days on a charge. But the technology’s monochrome-only, the displays are slow, and the cost has kept e-reader prices high enough that there are plenty of book lovers who haven’t splurged on one yet.

Chipmaker Marvell announced a new processor today, the Armada 166e, that’s designed to let designers of e-readers build better E-Ink-equipped devices. Marvell’s system-on-a-chip builds an E-Ink graphics controller right into the processor, allowing for e-readers that cost less to make but yet which can refresh their E-Ink displays more quickly. (Earlier e-readers have used separate graphics controllers to drive their E-Ink screens.)

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Plastic Logic E-Reader @ Barnes and Noble

Plastic LogicBack before Barnes & Noble announced its Nook e-reader, some folks wondered whether the rumored B&N e-book device would simply be the one from Plastic Logic. It wasn’t. But today, Barnes & Noble and Plastic Logic announced that B&N would be selling Plastic Logic’s QUE in stores and online.

I was startled by the news at first blush, but upon reflection, it makes sense. The QUE has a larger display than the Nook, giving B&N a counterpart to Amazon’s jumbo-screened Kindle DX to sell. It calls itself a PROreader and is aimed at business types. And while  we don’t know all of the QUE’s specs, it has enough in common with the Nook–AT&T 3G wireless, Wi-Fi, a touchscreen, and access to all the content in B&N’s online bookstore–that they’ll make sense as a set.

For all of the Kindle’s apparent success–I say “apparent” because Amazon doesn’t release specific sales figures–most of the book lovers in America still haven’t seen an e-reader in person, let alone bought one. (Borders sells Sony’s Reader, but it does so at a lonely little kiosk that I rarely see anyone paying attention to.) We still don’t know how long a future e-readers have, but if Barnes & Noble pours its heart into selling them, it’ll be as significant a moment in the gadget’s history as Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle a couple of years ago.


Plastic Logic’s E-Reader Gets a Little More Real

Plastic Logic logoE-reader maker Plastic Logic has been giving its gadget a fascinating slow-motion rollout. It first showed it to reporters more than a year ago at the DEMO show. Then showed it at the Consumer Electronics Show last January. Then it re-revealed it at the D conference. And now it’s saying it’ll “unveil” it at next January’s CES.

It’s also telling us what the name is for the first time–Que–and has revealed a couple of sexy photos which steer clear of revealing the full monty. (The device has been seen repeatedly in all its full-frontali glory in public, but I’m assuming the final industrial design has been kept under wraps.)



Plastic Logic says it’ll say how much Que costs and when it’ll be available at CES; the company obviously doesn’t have any issues with discussing a product long before it’s available, so it’s not a given that next January’s unveiling is proof positive that the device will go on sale in early 2010.

When Plastic Logic started touting its e-reader, its only real competition were the original Amazon.com Kindle and the Sony Reader. The industry’s undergone radical change since then, with the release of the Kindle 2 (recently further revised) and Kindle DX and multiple new Sonys, Best Buy’s rollout of the iRex, and the apparent imminent announcement of a contender from Barnes and Noble. By the time it shows up, it may even be compared to an Apple tablet.

The Plastic Logic device seems to have evolved in response to all this competition even before it ever shipped–for instance, it’ll have 3G connectivity via AT&T, a feature which the company didn’t mention at first. But the Que’s original signature feature was its 8.5″-by-11″ screen and PDF support, and Amazon has already matched those features with the DX. Amazon’s U.S. and International Wireless version of the Kindle 2, like the Que, uses AT&T. And it looks like the Que will find itself competing with the company that’s powering its bookstore: Barnes & Noble.

One thing that hasn’t changed about Plastic Logic’s device is its emphasis on business user. It’s coined the term “proReader” to describe the Que, says it’ll support PDF, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, and promises unspecified “powerful tools for interactive with and managing the content.” It sounds like a logical way to differentiate the product in what will be a rather noisy market, mostly populated by products from companies larger than Plastic Logic. But I’ll still be glad when it’s finally possible to judge the Que in the only way that’s truly satisfying: In our own hands, with our own eyes.


Another Plastic Logic Preview

plasticlogic1When I first saw Plastic Logic’s big touchscreen e-reader aimed at businesspeople back at the DEMO conference last fall, I was impressed. When I saw it again at CES in January, I remained impressed. Today, the company’s founders showed off their brainchild yet again at another major launchpad for new tech gadgets, the Wall Street Journal’s D conference. If I was there, I’d probably be impressed all over again. But also maybe a little impatient.

When Plastic Logic first appeared in September, it was strikingly different than Amazon’s Kindle: larger and more corporate, with built-in tools for reading office documents. Then Amazon announced its Kindle DX earlier this month–a Kindle variant that’s larger and which includes PDF support, at least. It’ll also ship months before the Plastic Reader, which is at least seven months away (the company says it’ll show up in 2010). .

The Plastic Logic folks assured D’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher that their e-reader is different and better than Kindle’s DX–as well they would, and as it may well be. But I think you can only demo an unreleased product so often, over a certain length of time, before it stops feeling fresh and exciting and runs the risk of being perceived as vaporware. I’ll bet you we’ll hear more news about Plastic Logic as it signs up publishers to distribute their wares on its platform. But if the next major demo of the gizmo didn’t come until it was ready to ship, I wouldn’t object at all…