Ten years of ONYX in Russia – how technologies, readers and the market have changed during this time

On December 7, 2009, ONYX BOOX readers officially arrived in Russia. It was then that MakTsentr received the status of an exclusive distributor. This year ONYX is celebrating its decade in the domestic market. In honor of this event, we decided to recall ONYX company history.

We’ll tell you how ONYX products changed, how unique the readers of the company that are sold in Russia are, and how the personalized readers of Akunin and Lukyanenko appeared on the market.

Image: Adi Goldstein / Unsplash

Birth of ONYX International

At the end of the 2000s, Kim Dan, an engineer and entrepreneur from China, drew attention to the growing interest in electronic readers. This direction seemed promising to her – she decided to start developing a device that could occupy the niche of electronic readers for schoolchildren and students. She was worried that with the proliferation of digital gadgets in the world, the number of students with myopia has increased dramatically.

Kim Dan was convinced that devices based on electronic paper will simplify the work with textbooks and technical documentation without causing a serious strain on the eyes. Therefore, in 2008, teaming up with colleagues who previously worked for IBM, Google and Microsoft, she founded ONYX International. Today, the company is responsible for the entire development cycle of devices based on E Ink technology: from design and writing software to building iron.

The first reader of the company – ONYX BOOX 60 – was released in 2009. She immediately won the Red Star Design Award in the Design category. Experts noted the aesthetic appearance, the comfortable control wheel and the robust gadget body. For ten years, the company has significantly expanded both the product line and geography. Today ONYX devices are in the USA and Europe. In Germany, ONYX readers are known as BeBooks, while in Spain they are sold under the Wolder brand.

One of the first ONYX readers came to Russia. We are the distributor – MakTsentr company.

ONYX in Russia – the first readers

The McCenter company appeared in 1991 as an official dealer of Apple Computer. For a long time we were engaged in wholesale and retail sales of "apple" electronics and its maintenance. But in 2009, we decided to discover a new direction and work with electronic readers. Our experts began to travel to technology exhibitions in search of a partner. Unfortunately, most of the presented devices were of poor quality and did not seem promising.

“But to the credit of ONYX, their first model – the BOOX 60 – had a good technical design, and the workmanship of the motherboard was high. In addition, this was the first reader on the E Ink with a touch screen. We were also “hooked” by the high quality of components. Each component passes control at the acceptance stage, on the SMT line. [процесс поверхностного монтажа печатных плат] and after the final assembly "

– Evgeny Suvorov, Head of Development Center, MakTsentr

Despite the fact that ONYX was a small company in 2009, we entered into an agreement with them and began work on localization. At the end of the year, sales of BOOX 60 started in our country. A batch of devices was immediately purchased by the Trinity Orthodox School. Pupils use readers as textbooks, and school management regularly updates the “park” of readers. In the spring of 2010, we brought to Russia a budget model of the reader – the ONYX BOOX 60S without a touch screen and Wi-Fi module.

Six months later, both devices received improved versions with a protective frame for the display and new software. The editors of Zoom.Cnews called readers the product of the year in the Russian Federation.

Line extension

After the success of the first readers, ONYX focused on expanding the product line. The company has released many models that have become pioneers in a particular area. For example, in March 2011, we released the ONYX BOOX A61S Hamlet – the first device in Russia with an E Ink Pearl screen. He had an increased contrast ratio (10: 1 instead of 7: 1) and lower power consumption. In general, ONYX became the third company in the world to manufacture devices with similar displays. Before it were Amazon and Sony, but their gadgets came to our market much later. In particular, official sales of the Kindle Amazon began only in 2013.

Following Hamlet, ONYX launched the M91S Odysseus reader in 2011. This is the world's first 9.7-inch E Ink Pearl reader. Immediately after him appeared the BOOX M90 line. Readers had the same large screen, only a touch. Various educational institutions showed interest in the devices, since the dimensions of the reader made it possible to work comfortably with PDF documents – to consider formulas, pictures and graphs.

Based on the BOOX M92, we launched a joint project with the ABC Publishing House. Its founder is Boris Baratashvili, who was at the forefront of PocketBook. As part of the initiative, cryptographic protection was developed for school electronic textbooks. It does not allow copying literature from a reader, excluding the possibility of piracy. The system uses a hardware crypto module, which plays the role of a digital signature. With its help, the reader is connected to a remote distribution point of content, where all the necessary books are stored. Thus, the portable device acts as a terminal and does not hold electronic files in its memory.

At the end of 2011, ONYX modernized the entire lineup and built more powerful processors in the readers. One of the modified readers was the BOOX A62 Hercule Poirot – she was the first in the world to receive the touch screen E Ink Pearl HD. Around the same time, the i62M Nautilus with multi-touch function came out. A year later, the light saw the i62ML Aurora reader – the first reader with built-in backlight on the Russian market. She also won the Product of the Year Award. In general, the period from 2011 to 2012 became a landmark for ONYX. She managed to significantly expand the product line in such a way that any client could pick up a reader to his liking.

Transition to Android

The first ONYX readers were running the Linux operating system. But in 2013, the company decided to transfer all its devices to Android. This approach has improved their functionality: the number of settings for text and the number of supported e-book formats have increased. The range of available applications also expanded – readers began to support dictionaries, directories and browsers running on a mobile operating system.

One of the key devices of this era is ONYX BOOX Darwin – the company's best-selling model with a touch screen and backlight. The kit also comes with a protective case with magnets that fix the cover.

Party ONYX BOOX Darwin acquired the leadership of the naval school. P. S. Nakhimov for students and teachers. Dmitry Feklistov, head of the institution’s IT laboratory, says they chose this model of readers because of its ergonomics, a contrasting touch screen and high battery life. Cadets are comfortable walking with them to classes.

Another iconic ONYX device for Android was the Cleopatra 3 model – the first reader in Russia and the second in the world with adjustable color temperature of the backlight. Moreover, the setting is very thin: for warm and cold light there are 16 divisions of “saturation”, which adjust the hue. It is believed that blue light interferes with the production of melatonin – the “sleep regulator”. Therefore, when reading in the evening, it is better to choose a warmer shade so as not to disrupt the circadian rhythms. In the afternoon, you can give preference to white light. Another innovation Cleopatra 3 – 6.8-inch screen E Ink Carta with a contrast ratio of 14: 1.

In the photo: ONYX BOOX Cleopatra 3

Of course, the ONYX range is being developed today. So, a year ago the company released MAX 2. This is the first reader in the world with a monitor function. The device has a built-in HDMI port to work with the computer as a primary or secondary display. The E Ink screen is less stressful and is suitable for those who have to consider schemes and various documentation for a long time. By the way, last year we did a detailed review of the device in our blog.

Then ONYX BOOX Note appeared – a 10-inch reader with a screen of increased resolution and contrast E Ink Mobius Carta. According to representatives of ONYX, E Ink Mobius Carta provides the maximum similarity of the image with the text printed on paper.

How has the reader market changed in ten years …

When we first started working with ONYX in 2009, the e-reader market was growing rapidly. New manufacturers appeared – many Russian companies branded the most popular reader models with their logo. The competition was very high – at some point in the Russian market there were more than 200 brands of readers. But in the early 2010s, electronic books with an LCD screen began to gain popularity – the so-called media readers. They were cheaper than the most budget readers, and the demand for the latter began to fall. The nameplate companies have lost interest in E Ink technology and have left the market.

But manufacturers who designed and assembled the readers themselves – and did not re-stick logos – and understood the needs of users, not only stayed, but also occupied empty niches. The number of brands represented on our market is now significantly less than ten years ago, but the sphere is still competitive. An irreconcilable struggle between Kindle and ONYX fans is taking place on all thematic forums.

“In ten years, not only the market has changed, but also the portrait of the“ typical reader reader. ” That in 2009, that now most of the customers are people who love and want to read in comfort. But now they are supplemented by professionals who buy a reader for specific tasks – for example, to read project documentation in production. This fact contributed to the release of ONYX models with a large screen of 10.3 and 13.3 inches.

Also, over the past time, paid book purchase services (MyBook and LiteRes) have become much more popular, that is, a category of people has appeared who think that it is worth paying for literature. ”

– Evgeny Suvorov

… And what ONYX suggested to the Russian reader

ONYX managed to maintain its position in the highly competitive market due to the fact that for ten years the company has not changed the basic principles of the brand. ONYX engineers are deploying the latest screen models, backlight types and hardware platforms – even on budget devices. For example, the younger model ONYX James Cook 2 has a backlight with color temperature adjustment, although it is usually placed only in flagship readers.

The company's chosen approach to product development also played a role. Most manufacturers of e-books and media readers work on a "complete" model. Some factories create turnkey solutions for modules with universal wiring for connecting the screen and peripherals. Another part produces the same universal case with buttons in a specific place. ONYX is responsible for the full development cycle: everything from the motherboard to the appearance of the case is designed by the company's engineers.

ONYX also hears its regional distributors, given their opinions and those of customers. For example, in 2012, we received a lot of requests from users with requests to add buttons for turning pages on the sides of the device. Our designer prepared a mockup of a new look for the reader and sent it to colleagues from ONYX. The manufacturer took these comments into account – since then the side controls are installed on all six-inch devices. Also, based on feedback from ONYX customers, they added soft-touch spraying to the case and increased the amount of internal memory up to 8 GB.

Another reason why ONYX managed to gain a foothold in Russia is an individual approach. Most devices are made specifically for our market. In particular, the Darwin, Monte Cristo, Caesar, James Cook and Livingstone series have no direct foreign analogues. Even unique device lines were produced – fanbooks developed in partnership with domestic writers.

In the photo: ONYX BOOX Caesar 3

The first such reader was Akunin Book, built on the basis of the ONYX Magellan model, which received the Product of the Year Award in 2013. The project was supported by Grigory Chkhartishvili himself (Boris Akunin). He proposed the idea of ​​a cover-cover imitating a real book, and also provided works for presetting – these were “The Adventures of Erast Fandorin” with exclusive illustrations.

“The Akunin Book project turned out to be successful, and in the wake of success, we released two more fanbooks – with the works of Lukyanenko and Dontsova. But in 2014, a crisis struck, and work in this direction had to be curtailed. Perhaps in the future we will resume the series – there are many other authors worthy of a personalized e-book, ”says Evgeny Suvorov.

In the photo: ONYX Lukyanenko Book

Devices manufactured exclusively for Russia have modified software. For example, they have an application for reading text documents OReader. It is a modified version of AlReader and allows you to configure many text parameters: add an initial letter, adjust fields and pagination. Additionally, you can manage the contents of the footer, modify tap zones and gestures. Reader models for foreign markets do not have such opportunities, since they are not in demand by the audience.

In the future – further expansion of the line

The reader market is changing much more slowly than the smartphone and tablet market. All breakthroughs and developments in this area are closely related to the development of E Ink technology, for which the American corporation of the same name is responsible. The company's monopoly position dictates slow progress in the field, but reader manufacturers still have some room for maneuver.

For example, in our latest ONYX Livingstone, for the first time, a flicker-free MOON Light 2 is installed. Usually, a PWM signal is used to power the LEDs. In this case, the backlight power control process is carried out using a pulsating voltage supply. This simplifies the circuit and reduces the cost of production, but there is a negative effect – the diode flickers with high frequency, which negatively affects vision (although the eye may not notice this). The backlight of the Livingstone model is arranged differently: a constant voltage is applied to the LEDs, and with increasing or decreasing brightness, only its level changes. As a result, the backlight does not flicker at all, but shines constantly, which reduces the load on the eyes.

In addition to introducing new technologies, the functionality of readers is growing. Our new Note 2, MAX 3 models are built on the basis of Android 9 and got some tablet features. For example, it became possible to synchronize the library and export notes through the cloud.

In the photo: ONYX BOOX MAX 3

In the near future, ONYX will launch a smartphone with an E Ink screen. In the past, the company has already offered a similar product – ONYX E45 Barcelona. He had an E Ink Pearl HD screen with a diagonal of 4.3 inches and a resolution of 480×800 pixels. But the product had a number of disadvantages – there was no support for 3G or LTE networks, as well as a camera installed by competitors. In the new model, the mistakes of the past will be taken into account and corrected, and the functionality will be expanded.

Now ONYX is taking steps towards smartphones with tablets. Readers, however, remain the flagship development of the company – ONYX plans to continue to work on the product line and release more interesting E Ink solutions. We at McCenter will continue to help them develop products in the domestic market.

More posts from our blog on Habré:

  • E-books and their formats: talking about EPUB – its history, pros and cons
  • Android ebook applications
  • What to look for when choosing a reader – operating systems and hardware

Reviews for ONYX BOOX Readers:

  • ONYX BOOX Faust – He who seeks is not forced to wander
  • ONYX BOOX Max 3 review: maximum screen reader
  • Around the world with an e-book: ONYX BOOX James Cook 2 review
  • They waited for him, and he did not disappoint: ONYX BOOX Nova Pro
  • When reading can be touched: ONYX BOOX Monte Cristo 4 review

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