What are wearables?

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. Plasmas 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.

AMOLED vs. PMOLED

OLEDs divide into 2 groups: AMOLEDs and PMOLEDs, which refers to how the screen is addressed by the electronics of the device.



The "AM" in AMOLED stands for "active matrix", a way of running an OLED screen that's better for motion (like video). Each pixel can be addressed individually, which is what you want in, for example, a television. AMOLEDs can also be made much larger than PMOLED and have no restriction on resolution.

Passive matrix OLEDs, or PMOLEDs, use a simpler control scheme to control rows or columns rather than individual pixels. They are cheaper and easier to make, but also less efficient and suffer from lower lifetime, as well as size and resolution restrictions. They are typically used to display character data or small icons and are currently being used in MP3 players, mobile phone sub displays, etc. Here's more information about AMOLED vs. PMOLED technologies.

OLED wearables market

In 2017 the OLED market has made great inroads into the wearable market. Many fitness bands and simple smartwatch devices adopt PMOLED displays, which offer high efficiency, small size, great contrast and a low price tag. One such example is the Fitbit Charge which uses a small monochrome (white) PMOLED display.

More sophisticated smart watches tend to adopt AMOLED displays, which offer a much higher resolution and better performance. LG's G Watch R is a circular Android Wear smartwatch that uses a 1.3" 320x320 (246 PPI) plastic OLED panel while Apple's Watch uses a square flexible AMOLED (produced by LG Display).

Another wearable device type is a head mounted display (HMD) for VR applications. OLED is the best technology for AR and VR applications - as OLEDs combine a fast refresh rate, high image quality and power efficiency. In fact, most VR HMD makers adopted OLEDs for their HMD designs. If you want to learn more about OLEDs and the VR and AR market, check out our market report!

Latest Wearable OLED news

DSCC: the OLED market will grow 19% in 2019 to reach $31 billion in revenues

DSCC estimates that the AMOLED market will grow 19% in 2019 to reach $31 billion, up from $26.5 billion in 2018. OLED revenues will continue to grow and reach $48.8 billion in 2022 (a CAGR of 16%).

OLED panel revenue by type, (2016-2022, DSCC)

Look at OLED unit shipments and area production, 2019 will see a 22% growth in unit shipments to 610 million panels and a 35% growth in area to 9 million square meters. Area shipments will grow faster than revenues as OLED selling prices will continue to decline - and as OLED TVs take up a larger share of the OLED market.

OLED Handbook

Huawei launches four new AMOLED smartphones and wearables

Huawei launched several new devices yesterday, including four new AMOLED ones. The top of the line is the Mate 20 X, a large smartphone that features several high-end technologies - a 7.2" 1080x2244 (346 PPI) AMOLED display, a triple Leica cameras setup, a GoodixTech under-the-display fingerprint sensor, a 5000 mAh battery and a graphene thermal management film.

Huawei Mate 20 X photo
Huawei also launched the smaller Mate 20 Pro - another high-end smartphone that features a 6.39" 1440x3120 (538 PPI) AMOLED display (reportedly produced by BOE), an Octa-Core Kirin 980 (7 nm) chipet, 6GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, an NM card slot and a triple Leica optics camera setup. The Mate 20 Pro is the first smartphone to adopt Synaptics' complete display system solution - which includes Synaptics’ flexible chip-on-film (COF) ClearView display driver and the company's ClearPad touch controllers.

Several Apple Watch series 4 customers complain of a strong off-angle blue tint

Apple recently launched its latest smartwatch - the Watch Series 4. It seems that at least some customers are complaining about a strong blue off-angle blue tint on the new OLED display. Some of these customers say that the tint is stronger compared to previous generation Watch devices - and also stronger than the tint on the iPhone X and LG OLED TVs.

Apple Watch Series 4 photo

It's not clear whether this is a real issue or not at this stage - we only have heard of a few customers complaining so far. But this is interesting as Apple has adopted its new LTPO backplane technology in the Watch 4, which could be responsible for the stronger tint (Is this the beginning of LTPO-gate?). All previous Watch devices used flexible AMOLED displays made by LG Display. We do not know yet whether LGD is still the exclusive supplier, or whether Apple added Samsung Display as its second source (or even exclusive).

Who will win the foldable smartphone race?

In 2013, Samsung announced its YOUM flexible OLED brand, showing off several flexible OLED prototypes - including a foldable phone/tablet. Samsung never used the YOUM brand name again, but the foldable smartphone concept presented in 2013 (see image below) is still exciting consumers - and many of them are still waiting for Samsung to commercialize the technology.

Fast forward to 2015, and the first reports of Samsung's Project Valley started to surface. Samsung started to actually develop a foldable phone, with plans to release its first device in 2016. Samsung faced many challenges - and delays - in its foldable smartphone project (which was recently renamed to Project Winner) - including problems with the substrate and the software and user interface.

BOE to supply OLED displays for Samsung's Galaxy Watch?

According to reports from Korea, Samsung Electronics is in talks with BOE regarding a possible OLED supply agreement for Samsung's Galaxy Watch. BOE is working on samples as it aims to replace the 1.3" and 1.2" Galaxy Watch displays currently produced by Samsung Display.

Samsung Galaxy Watch photo

This is a rather surprising report - as Samsung Display is a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, and it has excess capacity in its OLED production fabs. It could be that Samsung Electronics is trying to put pressure on SDC to lower its prices, and of course this would be an excellent deal for BOE and a great endorsement for its OLEDs.

Visionox demonstrates foldable OLEDs, is the supplier for Nubia's upcoming Alpha foldable device

Earlier this month, Nubia demonstrated a smartband that turns into a smartphone - with a foldable OLED display. We assumed that Nubia is using an OLED produced by either BOE or SDC, but it turns out that the producer is China-based Visionox.

A couple of days ago, at the 2018 China Display Technology Conference, Visionox demonstrated some of its latest foldable panels, and announced that the Nubia is using the company's panel. According to our information, the Nubia uses a 3.23" AMOLED display (when open) - and the device will indeed start shipping in China soon (before the end of 2018).

The Fraunhofer FEP developed a wearable OLED lighting button, is ready to help commercialize the technology

Researchers at the Fraunhofer FEP institute developed a new wearable OLED-based "button" that can be integrated into textiles. The OLEDs can be designed in any shape, be transparent, dimmable and also patterned. There is also a two-color variant.

Fraunhofer FEP O-Button photo

The Fraunhofer developers say that such elements can be used for fashion trends, branding, safety applications, light therapy and more. The so-called O-Button is based on an OLED deposited on a wafer-thin foil combined with a micro-controller on a conventional circuit board.

Nubia demonstrates a foldable smart watch/phone, says it will ship by the end of 2018

Update: It turns out that the display used by Nubia is produced by Visionox and not BOE as we assumed

China-based Nubia unveiled a new smart wearable device called the Nubia Alpha, which uses an elongated foldable OLED display. Nubia says that this device will ship in China by the end of 2018.

If Nubia actually ships its Alpha device before the end of 2018, it may become the first company to ship a foldable OLED smartphone. Samsung is gearing up to start foldable OLED production in 2018 but its first foldable smartphone is likely to ship in early 2019. Huawei is also said to get ready to release a foldable phone before the end of 2018 - using displays made by BOE. In fact BOE is reportedly developing foldable OLEDs for several smartphone makers - which means that it's likely that the Nubia Alpha is using a BOE display.

Kyulux - Hyperfluoresence OLED emittersKyulux - Hyperfluoresence OLED emitters