We’ve been keeping a close eye on the development of electronic paper tablets such as the reMarkable for a while now. These large-format devices would be a great way to view schematics and datasheets, and with the right software, could easily become an invaluable digital sidekick. Unfortunately, a troubling discovery made in a beta version of the reMarkable firmware is a strong indication the $400 USD device may be heading down a path that many in this community wouldn’t feel comfortable with.
While trying to get a reMarkable tablet running firmware version 22.214.171.1245 synced up to self-hosted server using rmfakecloud, Reddit user [dobum] was presented with a very unusual prompt. The tablet displayed several subscription levels, as well as brief description of what each one unlocked. It explained that standard users would get “basic functions only”, while the highest tier subscription would unlock an “expanding universe of powerful tools” for the e-paper tablet. In addition, only recently used documents would be synced with the cloud unless you had a paid subscription.
After contacting support about the message, [dobum] received a response that didn’t mince words:
At reMarkable, we constantly strive to improve our products and services. In addition to exploring new functionality, reMarkable is also considering new payment models that can support our vision. This includes a subscription-based model.
We want our customers to know that we are grateful for their support and that we always work to make their experience better. If we introduce a subscription model, our existing customers will get this service for free and have access to the full reMarkable experience – even powerful new features we may introduce in the future.
To their credit, at least reMarkable is being upfront by admitting a subscription model is being considered. It also sounds like existing users will be grandfathered in when it goes live, which should come as some comfort to current owners. But for prospective buyers, this could literally change everything. It’s bad enough that cloud synchronization of documents would potentially be time-limited, though we’ll admit there’s some justification in that the company is obviously incurring costs by hosting these files. Limiting features based on subscription tier on the other hand is simply a step too far, especially on a device that the user purchased outright.
We’ve already seen the first tentative steps towards developing a free and open source operating system for the reMarkable tablet, and this news is only going to redouble the efforts of those who wish to liberate this very promising piece of hardware from the overbearing software it ships with. What worries us is how the company is likely to respond to such projects if they’ve found themselves in a situation where recurring charges have become necessary to balance the books. We’ve already seen a motorcycle airbag that will only deploy if the wearer has paid up for the year, so is a tablet that won’t let you install additional applications unless you’ve sprung for the premium membership really that far fetched? Sadly, we all know the answer.