Chinese firm builds prototype Android e-ink smartphone

Have been doing a bit of digging on an interesting new handset from Chinese e-reader firm Onyx International – what could be the world’s first Android-based smartphone with an e-ink display.

Frustratingly the only source we have for this is a brief demo of the prototype device on geek site

What we can see, however, is it’s a pretty fully functioning smartphone, albeit running a slightly old version of Android, with web and email capabilities, a capacitive touchscreen and ARM Cortex-A5 processor.

The benefit of e-ink of course is that the screen is not made of glass and so is thinner and lighter, and not prone to cracking. It also makes the phone really easy to see in direct sunlight – something LCD displays singularly fail to do, especially under the glare of the summer Hong Kong sun.

It also slurps less battery, and so could apparently last on a single charge for around a week, and the lack of a glass display means it can really lighten the whole device – this one is said to be under 100g.

On the minus side, e-ink currently only really works in greyscale and screen refreshes take a lot longer than LCD displays – video is impossible and even basic tasks can take an age compared to what impatient smartphone fans are used to.

So what’s the ideal use case for this kind of smartphone? Well, the elderly perhaps, or emerging markets.

The problem E-ink, and indeed Onyx will have will be the budget Android smartphones from the likes of ZTE, Lenovo and others and indeed scores of lesser-known Chinese handset makers.

These vendors are increasingly targeting that sub-1000 yuan end of the market with LCD display devices which may be unreadable in direct light, but are a hell of a lot more responsive and, unlike e-ink, are the type of device Android is actually designed to work with.

One potential solution would be in re-architecting Android to largely deal with e-ink’s limitations – ie on-screen refreshes – but there is still the colour problem.

I’ve been so far frustrated in my attempts to find out exactly what kind of developer magic this would entail – and if it’s even feasible at all – but will update if I hear back.

My hunch is that it’s still at a very nascent stage development-wise and there’s only a limited amount of people working on it. For now at least, the best chance for e-ink to get onto a smartphone is for secondary displays on the rear of devices.


The Communist Party’s everywhere in China, even in foreign multinationals

chinese flagToday an interesting tale of ideology, back door deal making and hypocrisy as the worlds of government and hi-technology collide.

You’ve presumably all been made aware by now of the US lawmakers’ report into Huawei and ZTE which basically warns off all American firms and government bodies from purchasing their telecoms kit because of the national security risk they pose.

The key point is that the Chinese tech giants were unable to allay investigators’ concerns about the role of Communist Party committees within their firms.

The report has the following:

In essence, these Committees provide a shadow source of power and influence directing, even in subtle ways, the direction and movement of economic resources in China.

It is therefore suspicious that Huawei refuses to discuss or describe that Party Committee’s membership. Huawei similarly refuses to explain what decisions of the company are reviewed by the Party Committee, and how individuals are chosen to serve on the Party Committee.

All of which is fair enough, although virtually all Chinese companies are required to have a Communist Party committee on board, as Huawei argued to the lawmakers.

However, it has been mentioned since then that may foreign companies, including US ones, with outposts in China also have these committees. If true, it would seem to add weight to Huawei’s argument that the report reached a “pre-determined outcome”, and that its authors were unfairly harsh on the Chinese duo, even hypocritical given Party involvement in US firms in China.

Tea Leaf Nation, for example, pointed to articles claiming IBM, Nokia Siemens Networks, Standard Chartered and others all had communist bodies within them.

Now, I’ve heard back from NSN and IBM who both claimed their Chinese businesses don’t have Communist Party committees but that individual members of staff are free to join the Party if they wish.

However, I’ve yet to hear back from IBM on what  this picture and article refers to, as it seems to indicate a party branch of IBM China members.

Most likely at play here is semantics. These firms are denying having an organised party committee within their organisation, but it seems (at least in IBM’s case) they do have self-organised groups of Party members therein.

Whether this amounts to the same thing is difficult to tell, because if it’s one thing the Party is pretty good at it’s secrecy.

It has become adept over the past several decades at hiding the orchestrating role it plays at all levels of Chinese society – a role so key that it is pretty obvious if a large MNC wants doors to open for it then it needs to acknowledge and engage with the Party.