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.
According to rumors from Japan, Sony is set to supply Apple with OLED Microdisplays for Apple's future AR headset project. The rumors did not include more information than that...
Apple (like all other consumer electronics giants) is very active with AR R&D, as many believe that AR headsets will be very popular in the future and may replace smartphones. While I'm a bit skeptical about this technology, it is evident that many companies are increasing their R&D efforts in this field.
UBI Research estimates that OLED shipments in the first half of 2020 were 231 million units ($13.2 billion), pretty much the same as in the first half of 2019 (230 million, $13.8 billion). UBI estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic decreased demand for OLED displays.
Looking at market segmentation, OLED shipments for smartphones decreased from 200.4 million units to 189.8 million units. Foldable phones increased from 70,000 units to 1.7 million units, and smartwatch display shipments increased sharply from 22 million units in the first half of 2019 to 33.5 million in the first half of 2020.
Next up is the company's 2nd generation Galaxy Z Fold 2 that is an update to the original fold with a larger internal foldable display at 7.6" 1768x2208 HDR10+ 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED and also a larger 6.23" 816x2260 Super AMOLED cover display. The Fold 2 also improves the hinge design and sports an ultra-thin-glass cover (like the Galaxy Z Flip).
TADF emitter developer Kyulux announced that it has shipped the first batch of its yellow TADF emitter to Taiwan's Wisechip to be used it the world's first TADF / Hyperfluorescence display, the 2.7" PMOLED announced in October 2019 - which means that the display will likely start to ship soon.
Wisechip's first HF PMOLED is a 2.7" 128x64 monochrome yellow display, that reaches a brightness of 220 nits - 2.5 times brighter than Wisechip's fluorescent yellow PMOLED. The lifetime of this display is 50,000 hours. Wisechip says this display is aimed for the medical, industrial and electronic products markets, and in the future it will launch TADF/HF PMOLEDs for the wearable and consumer electronics markets as well.
DSCC says that OLED area shipments will grow in 2020 to around 10.5 million square meters, up from 8 million square meters in 2019 - a growth of around 31%. In terms of revenues, the OLED market will grow 35% in 2020 to reach $37.6 billion. DSCC says that in 2020, 731 million OLEDs will be produced (up 27% from 2019).
Smartphone revenues will reach $30.7 billion in 2019 (up 35% from 2019) while TV revenues will grow 28% to $3.2 billion. Smartwatch revenues will increase 11% in 2020 to $2 billlion. The revenues for all other OLED applications are expected to increase by 69% in 2020 to $1.6 billion, mainly driven by laptop OLED displays.
DSCC says that OLED panel revenues in Q4 2019 reached $8.1 billion, down 2% from Q3 2019 and pretty much the same as in Q4 2018. In terms of units, DSCC says that in Q4 2019 124 million smartphone panels were shipped, 31 million wearable panels and 998,000 TV panels.
Smartphone revenues in Q4 2019 were down 2% from Q4 2018 (due to lower average sales price for both rigid and flexible panels, the number of panels actually increased 4%), and revenues for TVs were up 30% (to $752 million). Smartwatches remain the 3rd largest market for OLED panels, and experienced strong growth in 2019, but it seems as if the growth may have plateaued (in Q4 the revenues were down 7% from last year).
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.