Wearable computers, also called ‘wearables’, are technological devices that can be worn as clothing or accessories. Some wearables are based on relatively simple technology, similar to a scaled-down desktop computer, but some involve innovative technologies. Wearables include different products, such as fitness bands, wearable headsets, smart watches, healthcare monitoring and displays embedded in textiles.
The wearables market is diverse, but faces similar challenges like minimizing size and weight of components, deciding on optimal display location, choosing suitable services and applications to provide and balancing cost-to-price ratios.
What are OLEDs?
OLED is a light-emitting diode built from thin films of organic electroluminescent material sandwiched between electrodes. Since the materials are luminescent, they produce light when the current is run through them. No other display technology creates light directly like this: LCDs use color filters and light-blocking liquid crystals above a light-creating backlight. Plasma displays use UV light created by igniting pockets of gas to excite phosphors.
This means that OLED screens are thinner, lighter, more efficient and offer better performance and color quality than other existing technologies. Each pixel can be shut off, providing absolute black and amazing contrast ratio. Earlier OLEDs used a glass substrate, but today's high end OLED displays use a plastic substrates which makes these displays flexible - as well as more durable as they are much less prone to shattering.
IHS says that smartwatch display shipments continue to rise, and reached 57 million units in Q3 2019. IHS expects total shipments in 2019 will reach 195 million units - up 31% from 2018 (149 million units).
IHS also revealed the breakdown by display maker. The leading producer by far is BOE Display, followed by LG Display (who produced all of Apple's OLED wearable displays in Q3 2019, but this is now changing) and then Truly.
Panasonic developed HDR 4K VR eyeglasses that utilize Kopin's OLED Microdisplays. The microdisplay-based design enabled Panasonic to offer a smaller and lighter solution compared to current VR headsets that use large (usually around 3" per eye) displays.
Panasonic says that the new eyeglasses provide high-quality images without any screen-door effect. Panasonic is not releasing these as a product yet, but the company says that it will continue to further develop the new VR glasses for new applications.
IHS Markit says that rigid AMOLED is the leading smartwatch display technology, with a market share of 36% (in Q4 2019) - up from a market share of only 14% in the beginning of 2019. Rigid AMOLEDs enjoy the fastest growth of all display technologies.
All OLED displays together (PMOLED, AMOLED and flexible OLEDs) take up a market share of 69%. The market share of PMOLED displays shrunk from 51% in 2018 to 19% in 2019 as rigid AMOLEDs starts to be adopted where PMOLED displays once were. To learn more about the PMOLED market and its future, see our PMOLED Market Report.
Visionox announced that it is supplying the highly-curved 2.07" 326 PPI 430 nits AMOLED display for Huami's next-generation Amazfit X smartwatch, which will be released in Q1 2020.
Huami, which is a subsidiary of Xiaomi, is enjoying great success with its wearable devices. In 2018 it has shipped 27.5 million smartwatches - surpassing even Apple. This could be an excellent design win for Visionox.
Taiwan-based PMOLED display maker RiTDisplay's CEO says that the company's PMOLED sales has been affected by e-cigarette bans in the US, and the company is now shifting its focus to develop micro LED displays (and also mini-LED ones). RiTDisplay's revenues in 2019 to date, $47.1 million USD, decreased 32.4% compared to last year.
In May 2019 RiTDisplay announced a strategic partnership and share swap with Taiwan-based MicroLED developer PlayNitride. As part of the partnership, RiTDisplay gained access to PlayNitride's technology and is able to produce and sell micro-LED panel based on this technology and IP.
Apple developed its LTPO backplane technology for OLED displays to enable power saving of around 5-15% compared to LTPS AMOLEDs. LTPO was adopted in Apple's Watch Series 4 and Watch Series 5 smart watches - with the panels produced by LG Display using Apple's technology and IP.
According to a new report from Korea, Samsung has recently developed its own brand of LTPO backplane technology and has started to produce such panels - which are adopted by the company's latest smart watch, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 (which recently started shipping). The watch has a 1.2" 360x360 or 1.4" 360x360 round AMOLED displays.
Apple's Watch Series 5 (its latest generation) features a 324x394 1000-nits always-on LTPO AMOLED display (368x448 on the 44m model). Apple is currently buying these OLED displays exclusively from LGD.
DSCC says that OLED panel unit shipments will reach 1.06 billion by 2023. The growth will peak in 2020 (with a 27% unit growth and 25% revenue growth from 2019). Overall revenues for OLED panels will grow from $26.5 billion in 2018 to $46.2 billion in 2023.
DSCC says that it lowered its OLED TV forecast for 2020-2023, as LGD is delaying both its Guangzhou 8.5-Gen fab ramp up and its P10 10.5-Gen line by one year. New LCD technologies, including dual-cell LCD and miniLEDs will also hurt the growth of the OLED TV market. DSCC further reports that LG Electronics will not be able to reach its 2 million OLED TV goal in 2019 - and have asked LGD to supply it with only 2.5 million OLED TV panels in 2020 (the original plan was to supply 3.5 million panels to LGE).
LG Display is currently producing flexible AMOLED displays for Apple's smartwatches in its E2 4.5-Gen line in Paju. The company hasn't been able to improve its financials as LCD prices are under pressure, and following a recent managerial shuffle, it is now reported that LGD is considering shutting down its E2 line.
The E2 production capacity is around 20,000 substrates per month, but it is less economical than LG's larger OLED lines, the E5 and E6 lines which are 6-Gen lines. LG will reportedly move production from its E2 line to its larger lines.
Yesterday Apple announced its 2019 iPhone and Watch Lineup - with all the devices but one with OLED displays. We'll start with the iPhone 11 Pro which uses a 5.8" notch-type 2436x1125 (458 PPI) AMOLED display and features Apple's latest A13 Bionic chip, 64/256/512GB of storage, a triple camera setup, HDR, FaceID - and is water and dust resistant.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is quite similar, but it offers a bigger display - a 6.5" 2688x1242 AMOLED (same PPI - 458). Both phones will ship on September 20. The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 while the iPhone 11 Pro Max starts at $1,099.