Firmware Find Hints At Subscription Plan For ReMarkable Tablet

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 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.

68 thoughts on “Firmware Find Hints At Subscription Plan For ReMarkable Tablet

    1. Indeed, same here – my kindle DX has been kept running a fair bit longer than it was ever really designed for already, so a big and more utility like E-tablet replacement has been on my wish list for a while.

        1. I don’t care about a “Kindle App” – as long as it can read a variety of formats for the passive reading tasks that works for me. And I would really like some of the extra features the Remarkable comes with – turns that much loved e-reader into a vastly more versatile device.

          1. Also I should point out I would much rather native Linux/BSD support, open SSH access, root accounts etc – all the free and opensource goodness so I can choose what I actually want in the ‘tablet’ e-ink not whoever sold it to me. Who needs the Google/android crud…

    2. Absolutely a couple pay checks from now, but now i know about the Parabola project, and I’ll spend my time drooling over a new toy by instead keeping track of Open Works!

    3. Same, but the $400 price tag doesn’t include the pen (another $100 because I want the eraser model) and the cover (yet another $100 because I want the full cover). I can’t justify a $600 purchase already, but at least if they start charging for a subscription I can stop oggling over it and move on with my life.

      1. As to needing an eraser, I’ve been using the reM for so long it’s now just my forever notepad. I find it easier to just scratch through mistakes like I would on a legal pad and keep on writing. So, for personal notes anyway, I don’t think an eraser adds much value.

    4. But why? If you buy it now you become an existing user with no charge of any services in future (as written in the article). The described subscription model is a possible future, not a current situation.

    5. I bought one and it lasted exactly two days with me before I sent it back for a refund.

      I had two major problems with it: First, it would not hold a WiFi connection. Two Macs, a iPhone, and an iPad on the same desk had no issues with keeping connected, but every time I picked up the “Remarkable” to do something it required me to go through a long-winded, that is multi-step, process to re-connect. That took the device from a “pick it up and do something interesting” to a “pick it up, swear at it, reconnect it, then try to remember why I picked it up” device.

      Second, the user interface is just about unusable. The color scheme on the WiFi reconnection page is light text on a slightly darker background. I don’t use reading glasses for anything else except the smallest print, and yet I found myself grabbing them each time. I wanted it to be black text on a white background, like the rest of the interface. No go.

      I emailed back and forth with the company on both of these. On the first I got the “move closer to your router” song and dance. Yes…I never thought of that. Thanks. On the second they told me that there was no option to make the UI consistent with the metaphor of black on white. I asked about upcoming updates to the firmware that would do that, and they didn’t have any information.

      So…it is a nice idea, and a number of my friends really like the Remarkable, but they are more tolerant of inconsistencies in their UIs as long-term Windows users. :-)

  1. If you don’t like subscription products, please do the following: Do not buy it. Companies make products to make money. If a subscription product does not make money, they’ll stop making it. In the same vein, I cannot blame companies for trying and continuing to make subscription products that continue to sell. Also, consumers must support news sources like Hackaday reporting these kind of things so that consumers can make educated decisions and keep companies honest.

    1. Most customers will not try to hack it. I don’t have a problem to hack a device to free it from its subscription. The company can continue to make money off its normal customer base. Those who willing to take risk and won’t mind the extra effort can hack and save money. Just like carrier unlocking a phone via hacking. Or buying a T-Mobile router and unbrand it into generic Asus.

    2. lol. Won’t make any difference.

      Companies make products to increase executive salary. It doesn’t matter if the company goes under as long as the executives income can continue. Unfortunately for both workers and customers that continuation can be and often is in the form of a sale of the company if the product does well, or moving to another company in the same position if the product does poorly.

      If the company is just manipulating a commodity product like e-screens there is nothing you can do that effects that company. They aren’t there to cater to your choices, they are catering to the whims of market whims as presented to them in aggregate.

    3. Yeah, but that doesn’t do anything for those that already bought one, and now wish they didn’t – even if they do get grandfathered in this time…

      You can’t avoid subscription services unless you can stick entirely in the realms of FOSS, and ideally open hardware too – the maker/service provider can always pull the plug…

      1. that turns out to not be the case. I don’t use any subscription software/hardware, and don’t have a problem. ie My old version microsoft office does everything I need and I own it!

        1. Technically you don’t own it
          You have a license for it’s use.

          I’ll avoid the whole free software/open source lecture about everything you don’t have with a closed binary blob like this from $Vendor.

          But I’m agreeing with you that this software-as-an-asset is preferable to software-as-a-subscription in many ways.

        2. Woo, you ‘own’ it… But once M$ dumps it no bug or security fixes, so opening any malicious document could poison your whole PC, and had M$ decided your old version would now upgrade as the final upgrade to their online cloud platform for many features there is not alot you can do about it as they own your machine upgrade cycle too…

          Still it is better than much hardware, and as M$ didn’t do that last bit actually works for you.

          Unlike the plethora of phones that stop receiving updates so can’t run whatever application you wanted, have applied updates automatically that break something – like having their battery life limited artificially etc while not be easy to change software to something less awful – Any device that can change anything about itself and being closed ecosystem, probably with deliberate extra roadblocks is hard to get any other OS/fixes to run on means you are largely at the company’s mercy…

          Or all the home assistant ‘smart home’ tech things that have just wrapped up the servers and junked all the gear you may have bought, after forcing you to pay subs to keep it running that bit longer…

          Sure many folks here, myself included can probably get around all this eventually, but what it costs in time (and potentially money for more hardware) means its generally not worth it, so you have wasted whatever years of use that device had left in it, and a large pile of money on the device you now don’t get a full service life from.

      2. Are you sure? I don’t have any subscription services here. Hardware/software. None. Get along just fine. I don’t subscribe to the ‘cloud’ way of thinking either (no backup to cloud, no storing things in the cloud, no running applications in the cloud).

        This would be a no go for me too. As above, speak with your wallet (don’t buy it) .

  2. I’m pushing back against some of the opinion here. The idea, shared by so many people who clearly have never created products for sale, that everything should be free seems to me to be one not tethered in any reality – and selfish. The Remarkable software is hardly overbearing.

    They seem to be a pretty good corporate citizen and maker friendly. They have provided an entire ecosystem of support including desktop and mobile apps. They provide ssh access to their device. The format for the drawing file is known. People have successfully hacked their device and Remarkable is unbothered by this. I’m not sure they would care if people connected the tablets to their own servers. They’re going to grandfather in all early supporters.

    Remarkable is not building a huge number of products so they’ll never get the device price down to some commodity thing like a kindle. They don’t have other revenue streams like on-device advertising (and I for one, am very grateful for that).

    But they still have hosting costs. It’s unrealistic that this could be provided for free for a long period of time. We haven’t even seen the subscription pricing and people are whining “I’ll never buy one now…”.

    Perhaps the whiners are just the typical armchair quarterbacks who never intended to buy one of these devices anyway as its fundamental value is not going away at any of the subscription levels.

    1. Like fellow consumer Dan, I for one am glad that is gracious enough to let me use the product I purchased.

      So what if they have changed the rules of how the device works after I paid in full? Clearly, the initial purchase price was only an estimate. They’re a small company worth only several tens of millions of dollars, and need our help in these trying times.

        1. That’s exactly it. When I buy something, I expect it to work to 100% of its capability until it fails in some way that makes it unusable. That includes fully supporting all its capabilities in any operating system for which there is support/driver software available.

          A notorious case of flat out lying to the customer was when Xerox made a disastrous foray into inkjet printers. Rather than make their own, they had Sharp give some of theirs a full Xerox rebranding, right down to doing a find/replace of Sharp with Xerox in the firmware. Easy to do since the two names have the same number of letters.

          Fail 1. Advertised as being compatible with Windows 98, 2000, and XP, with 1200 DPI color printing, the XP “support” was a basic driver provided by Microsoft and limited to a max of 600 DPI color printing, and IIRC some features usable in 98 and 2000 were unavailable in XP. The scanner and other included software did work with XP, but of course with the 600 DPI limit. Why there wasn’t a lawsuit over this lie, I have no idea.

          Fail 2. The print heads were *garbage*. ALL of them would get to where nozzles in one color would start to print intermittently, followed soon by complete failure of that color.

          Fail 3. The scanner on multifunction versions would get to where it made a yellow streak the full length of all images scanned. This was usually fixable by taking the thing apart, loosening the scanner lens and rotating it a little, then tightening the lens and reassembling enough to test and see if the streak was gone. It usually took a few tries. Nobody ever had an explanation for what caused it or why rotating the round lens fixed it.

          I had two of these Xerox printers. One a multifunction that developed the yellow streak. Shortly after I fixed that, it lost the ability to print yellow. The other was the print only model, its printhead had magenta quit.

          Not long after both of them had their printheads fail, replacements became completely unavailable due to Xerox tossing the product line under the bus. Apparently Xerox had Sharp make some alterations to the print head design so Sharp heads from their version of the printers wouldn’t work.

      1. But the article says they aren’t changing anything for anyone who already bought it… So no one’s changing the rules on a device you paid for, if their support response is right. It’s a nice strawman for arguing against, though.

        I agree with the grandparent that this doesn’t seem too egregious if they communicate it clearly to the new customers it’ll apply to before they buy it, though I think the most honest way to do this would be to launch it as a different SKU (e.g., the current Remarkable becomes the Remarkable+, with forever cloud, and they launch one with a price drop that has cloud subscription options). For now, withholding judgment till we see what they do.

        It’s really unfortunate that hardware companies get so excited by the subscription model software has – it warps their incentives against the user in meaningful ways (repairability, openness, etc.) when hardware (especially high-end hardware like Remarkable) is a perfectly legit business model.

        1. Ok, but what if the one I have breaks and I need a new one? Or if I wanted to pick up a second one for some reason? How about when the remarkable 3 comes out?

          Not charging existing users is just a ploy to avoid getting sued. The simple fact is that a subscription model changes the whole nature of the product going forward, and early adopters that wanted to stick with the company will be forced to either accept these changes or walk away.

    2. Whether or not you believe I was about two weeks away from hitting the sweet “take my money” button is not my problem.

      Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math.

      Up until this point it looked a little something like this: 5-600 currency (with all the optional bells and luxury whistles) for, by my estimate, an about 5-year useful life.

      This is now turning into a unknown amount of money for whenever the fk they feel like cutting off previous models. What’s been the common wisdom, they have a two-year development cycle? Let’s assume (fairly justly) they will support current and previous gen, that’s four years. As you have just now said, the device itself is unlikely to get cheaper. Even at a very modest 5currency/month subscription fee that’s 750-850 for a four-year useful life (and in all likelyhood this would barely be the minimum tier, which in all likelyhood will be “here’s a bone, kid” at best). That’s a roughly 60% price hike, at present value, at a minimum. Unless you buy now, which is supposedly roughly mid-way between generations.

      I will now keep away from that “take my money” button and wait to see how this plays out, then do another CBA. If your B, as you perceive it, is higher than their C, by all means, the button will most definitely be prominently displayed in their website.

      1. If my aunt had two, I’d call her uncle. Honestly, the cloud stuff of remarkable does worth it (not great, I mean). There are better opensource alternative to their cloud server. So, if the hosting price does not fit you, feel free to set up your own cloud instance and shave off whatever price they ask for.

        In my own usage, the tablet is very very useful, and I’m not using the cloud feature (except to send epub document to the system and I could do it by scp too).

        It’s very unlikely (understand dumb) for the company to cut the network access to an open tier if you don’t subscribe since no one will buy it anymore.

        But if they can’t meet both ends with the “offered” storage cost, they are forced to make you pay for it, or find yourself a better solution. By looking at their past behavior, I think that:
        1. The storage will be offered at a low price (since it’s only few GB and the bandwidth is very limited), in the order of few dollars per year
        2. The additional services (like hand writing recognition) will be more expensive since they have to pay for the service themselves (unless they decide to write their own code, but it’s not their initial domain of expertise). I for one, never use the HWR service, it’s just too bad…
        3. They will allow you to use your own storage server if you’re not happy with their offering. You’ll be have to figure out your own costs.

        1. Where/what are these “better open source alternatives to their cloud service”? What I found on GH is a far cry from for example the folks who do Standard Notes (whom I support for that’s the kind of service model I want, yet don’t actually use their service, because awesome as they are, trust them I will when horses graze their graves, if that makes sense).

    3. If they go on to sell the device at slightly reduced cost the way Amazon now does for its ‘with ad’ kindles or something, and keep ALL the required features for functionality available without subscription – so all it does is quality of life improvements, that are entirely optional – and possibly even self-hostable (for free) they won’t have lost me as a potential customer permanently just yet… But pulling this kind of move seems to inevitably mean forced obsolescence, massively increased (and uncertain) device ownership costs… SO for now I won’t be buying, heck for the price they want to charge for the device it seems almost criminal to ask for anything more…

  3. I have a remarkable 2 and adore it. I use it literally every day for my work and would find it difficult to change my workflow now nearly a year on.

    I was skeptical re: the cost of the device initially but bought as it was the only way to trial it, knowing I could return free of charge within 30 days. If there had been talk of subscription models on top of £400 price tag I would never have bought it.

    Despite this, the product really is exceptional and they have been busy with software updates that keep improving the experience. At this point, I could probably be ok with a sub £5 subscription.

  4. Not sure what the ‘powerful new features’ will be, but they sure must be pretty good, otherwise they wouldn’t be asking for an extra subscription. Somebody wouldn’t just make vague promises on something, then not deliver, just make money. Would they?

    1. It’s very easy to understand. Their cloud model is based on 3 services:

      1. File hosting (this is the most obvious to replace, and likely the cheapest service). They offer 4GB of storage space. At current market rate, on S3 storage it’s 8c$/month.

      2. Hand writing recognition, they are using service. Since they(MyScript) are based on a pay per use model, this is very expensive for actual user (Remarkable), and doesn’t cost much to them(MyScript). This is, I think, the main cost that Remarkable tries to slip to you. The MyScript price are very expensive: 10$ for 1000 requests.

      3. Email service. If done without an external service (I think it’s the case, but I’m not 100% sure), it’s also in the order of few c$ per month

      (optional): Development support, since you have to pay for developers to improve the software of the system, asking for a subscription allows to maintain your device at optimum state. You only have 2 choices here: either you increase your sale price to support the development cost of the device (like they did), or you ask for a lower product price and ask for a (lower) subscription. In all case, you’ll have to pay for it, and they are probably wondering if with a smaller sale price & subscription fee, they could reach more sale and find profitability.

      So, basically, if an affordable hand writing recognition service was available (like an open source version or a good model), their running cost could still be in the c$/month and could be “offered”/included in the buying price for a reasonable time (10c$/month over 5 years is only 6$).

  5. As someone who has owned and hacked Android devices since the HTC dream I am completely familiar with wanting to expand functionality. However I will say as a “business” product, I would EXTREMELY pay good money for the ability to reliably sync and store my company’s notes my not tech employees use. The current one note solution is mediocre and not built in. I can’t remotely hack ever device for every update.

    They should go the community edition route, make syncing like Salesforce, onenote, onedrive business and SharePoint paid, and I would pay for good OCR notes to my CRM in a heart beat.

    I do appreciate the easy ssh access, and do wish it was more customizable. Give us choice for those who want it.

  6. I’ve been hearing about the proposed subscription model for about 6 months. So thankful to hear current owners would be grandfathered in for free. I would be livid if after spending near $800 on a device of they added a subscription fee that would limit my devices functionality.

    I’m really brand loyal so those kind of decisions impact whether or not I ever purchase any future devices from a company. Once you break trust it’s over for a company imo.

    Even though it seems I (current owner) would be spared from the sub fee I really don’t support the idea of new users having to pay it either.

  7. Hmm, changing rules/access by some subscription is a tad unsettling, though could be workable, depends on your assessment of disposable income vs cost benefit analysis in terms of productivity at the least. Although I do like the product and it’s traditional aspect re paper, I’m holding out a wee bit longer. Ie in any case I’d be looking at getting several units all (intimately & smoothly upon selection) linked, eg few overall; lab (2 rooms & connected to instruments), machine shop ie prep room & monitoring, office & annexe (2), car, even bedroom eg dream notes & record biostats during sleep etc…

    Ideally I’d like to see a full A4 sized unit which either had a scanner (potentially place sheet on screen) or pull through sheet through gap on one edge eg top to bottom not through length, empty region inside for customisation eg instruments &/+ memory built in environmental measures (tiny space easy to do) eg temp, humidity, acceleration Also stereo (location inference) sound record at least, solar panel bat charge eg on back or in future through front screen when off ie leave on table pickup light &/+ wireless charge too…

    The way tech is going despite semiconductor shortages, we might even be in a position sooner that most expect to customise such devices from the ground up through advanced online order, heck all the tech unit primitives are or will soon be very well known & library selectable. So to select that from a set of appropriate menus, slot it into flexible auto manufacturing not far away at all, some co will be first in a fuller system than at present, perhaps Amazon. Foxconn seem to have already gone down that path but, not as yet offered in any systemized way at small volumes to public.

    One might observe, such an extension to manufacturing systems reaching Inevitability !

  8. i always tend to blame the consumer for this kind of thing. the desire to have the “latest and greatest” stuff overrides all other desires like not to be scammed or protecting the environment. devices dependent on a 3rd party will inevitably be disowned by that party and wind up in landfills. i think that when a company does such a disownment must be legally obliged to release source code or make the device self supporting in perpetuity. until that happens i aint going to play the shell game.

    subscriptions are fine when the thing you are subscribing to is something beyond your capability to own, like a data center or infrastructure (cable tv and landline phones are a good example here). but when they make devices artificially dependent on unnecessary infrastructure to operate (like storing your data in the cloud on a device that has its own storage or access to my nas) it is encroaching uncomfortably into scam territory.

    companies are always going to do the thing that makes them the most money. if consumers are ripe for blatant manipulation and exploitation, and provided its legal (and they will lobby lawmakers if they think they can make it legal), then the companies are going to use that to increase their profit margins. its what business does. the only thing consumers can do is be careful who they do business with.

    1. I’m not using the cloud and the device is perfectly usable without. The cloud adds some features you might or might not want. If you want them, I don’t see why you won’t pay for them. Honestly, the only feature that’s worth it, IMHO, is the handwriting recognition (but I don’t use it, since I’m sketching).

  9. I honestly don’t know how they stay in business. After reading that the RM2 doesnt support apps, or just about any type of connectivity I was not interested in buying. Check out the BOOX Note Air – Its everything the RM2 is, plus Android 10 and playstore support.

      1. Ohhh yeah. Enough screen space and resolution to legibly read PDFs. A high enough Android version to run current versions of everything. And they even crammed a Wacom layer into my Nova 2 for only BOM Jesus knows why.

  10. I have one of these. Ya the subscription thing looks bad, but these devices are not only really good, but they also are not locked down at all. You can ssh into the device right out of the box and fully control every aspect of the device. There are already open source self hosting solutions. The OCR part of it is the biggest bummer if it is no longer offered free.

  11. As long as they don’t take away anything from existing customers, I don’t see the problem. They provide an ongoing service that has ongoing costs. If you want this product to remain available, you probably want them to have a steady income stream that makes that ongoing service sustainable.

  12. Can we get back to the days when companies sold a thing and then you owned the thing and could do what you liked with it forever?

    This whole subscription / update / forced obsolescence BS is just so wasteful and limiting.

  13. I have been considering one of these seriously for a while but after seeing this I don’t need yet another company retroactively screwing my purchase.

    It’s happened countless times with DRM and other methods.

    I am absolutely not shelling out $400 for one of these now if they are even considering this idiocy because I know that that’s some point they will foist it on people, because “shareholders”. When will this stupidity stop.

    1. We will see. We do not know the full story here. This kind of subscription models often lowering the onetime costs of entering the ecosystem, in this case it would be the device itself. If the existing customers will not charged for the services, it could be cheaper to buy the new devices, not a bad deal so far for them.

  14. Do not trust ReMarkable. They have the worst customer service I have ever encountered. I bought one last year, realized it was not going to work for me and had to go through a ridiculous process trying to return it which I did within 30 days and then had to spend several months with my credit card company involved to get my money back. Even though I had documented everything they still tried to screw me. I call them UN ReMarkable.

    1. I spilled a drink on my reMarkable cover. When cleaning it off, the rubber separated from the cover. I contacted them and they send me one for free. I have had this reMarkable for years and still use it. There is one line of dead white pixels, but I don’t notice it.

  15. There is a market for these. My beloved, a music teacher, passed her original on to me when she got the RM2. They are costly but are ideal for teaching & notes. Like all good tools it is built to perform a limited set of activities well – which may not suit all users. Our experience of the product, its’ features & company is consistently good.

    I know that bad choices & experiences are often aired loudly while the rest of us quietly get on & use the promised performance of products without bitching.

    This company seem to value the loyalty of their customer base & play with a straighter bat than many in the industry. They seem different. I will hold judgement & let their future actions speak for themselves.

  16. I’m up for a subscription model if it includes the device. The device is a pricy one and having a subscription model that allows me to pay incrementally is a winner. It also provides the freedom to upgrade periodically. That said if I have to buy the device and then pay for a separate subscription I’ll definitely be out. So it all depends on what the official line is once it lands, hopefully with a RM3 that has keyboard support!

  17. I bought the first remarkable. I plan to buy the 3rd. I love my remarkable. When you look at the Boox video they dont even use it resting their hand on the tablet. Remarkable is for paper people. It’s better than paper. I rarely use the syncing, though I do occasionally use the app to load a pdf on my device or check out a note I made synced to my tablet through the app. I’m not sure if I will miss that very much. The most important thing I believe they need is just simply cloud backup and restore. They need this for updating hardware and for general loss or theft. I would gladly pay for what I use… but it better be available for nearly the price it costs. I’m not interested in 5$ a month just to backup my notebooks which take maybe 3MB of storage in a cloud bucket costing them around 1 cent a month. I do need some simple way to back it up though, I dont think it’s currently backed up is it?

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