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.


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

Lenovo says its foldable wrist device could ship within 2-3 years

Jul 23, 2017

In December 2016 Lenovo demonstrated two foldable device prototypes. One of these devices is the CPlus, a smartphone that can be turned into a smartwatch. A few days ago Lenovo demonstrated the CPlus again, saying that such devices could be on the market within 2-3 years.

Lenovo CPlus prototype photo

The CPlus device demonstrated now is similar to the the original one shown in 2016 - but the display size has been slightly increased (to 4.35" from 4.26"). CPlus runs on a customized Android version, includes an embedded SIM card and has a camera that can be motion triggered so it can be used in the wearable mode.

IHS sees AMOLED shipments surging in 2017, fast growth throughout 2020

Jul 05, 2017

IHS says that AMOLED panel shipment will increase 63% in 2017, driven by strong demand from smartphone makers. Looking forward the AMOLED market will experience fast growth, as demand will rise for smartphones, TVs, VR HMDs and mobile PCs.

AMOLED shipment revenue forecast (2015-2021, IHS)

In 2017 the AMOLED market will reach $25.2 billion in revenues, up from about $15 billion in 2016. The OLED TV market will grow to 1.5 million units (up from from 890,000 units in 2016). Mobile display resolution continue to increase, and in 2017 68% of shipments will be of FHD, QHD and WQHD resolutions.

Graphene for Displays and Lighting Market Report

Will Samsung's next-gen Gear VR headset include its own 2000 PPI OLED display?

Jun 22, 2017

According to a report from Korea, Samsung is developing its next-generation Gear VR headset, which will include a built-in display (unlike current models which require you to insert your Galaxy smartphone into the device).

Samsung Gear VR (consumer version) photo

The report claims that Samsung will adopt a new OLED display in this device - which will achieve a pixel density of 2,000 PPI. Such a high pixel density will be great for VR as it will improve the realism and reduce sickness.

Kopin and Goertek unveil an OLED microdisplay based VR HMD reference design

Jun 02, 2017

In January 2017 Kopin unveiled its first OLED microdisplay, the 1-inch 120 Hz 2k x 2k Lightning panel, and in March 2017 Kopin announced that it is developing a VR headset in collaboration with Goertek - a mobile VR headset that uses the Lightning OLED microdisplay.

Kopin & Goertek Elf VR OLED reference design photo

The two companies now unveiled their VR headset reference design, called the Elf VR. The Elf VR utilizes Kopin's Lightning OLED microdisplay to create a headset that is lighter, more efficient and with a higher image quality compared to the current VR headsets based on smartphone-sized OLEDs. The Elf VR adopts an advanced optical solution with a compact Multi-Lens design. The reference design supports two novel optics solutions – 70 degrees FOV for film-like beauty or 100 degrees FOV for deep immersion.

AUO demonstrates several new OLED technologies at SID 2017

May 31, 2017

AUO demonstrates several OLED panels and technologies at SID 2017, and the excellent video below walks through these displays with lot's of details.

First up is AUO's foldable 5" 1280x720 (295 PPI) high color gamut (95% BT.2020) display announced last month. JJ Lih, AUO's R&D manager, says that the company expects to have this display in mass production within 2 years. The panel is only 1 mm thick and the bending (folding) radius is 4 mm.

AUO demonstrates new round AMOLEDs with slimmer salient corners

May 26, 2017

AU Optronics developed new round AMOLED displays, which they call True-Circle displays, which have slimmer salient corners compared to AUO's current round OLED displays. This enables watch designers more flexibility with their designs.

AUO True Circle AMOLED displays (1.2'' and 1.4'', SID 2017)

AUO is demonstrating two such displays, with a diameter of 1.2-inch and 1.4-inch. AUO aims to start mass producing these new displays in the second half of 2017. You can see how these displays look compared to AUO's current "Full Circle" displays.

Asus may stop developing ZenWatch smartwatches due to dismal sales

May 20, 2017

According to reports from Taiwan, Asus may have decided to stop developing its ZenWatch line of smartwatches, due to poor market performance. The reports suggest that Asus managed to sell only about 5,000 to 6,000 watches each month.

Asus ZenWatch 3 photo

Asus first ZenWatch was launched in 2014. The latest model, the ZenWatch 3, started shipping in November 2016 for $225. The ZenWatch 3 is an Android Wear smartwatch that features a 1.39" 400x400 (287 PPI) AMOLED display, a SnapDragon Wear 2100 CPU, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.

AUO says nine fashion brands adopted its round AMOLEDs for future smartwatch devices

May 05, 2017

AU Optronics says that nine fashion brands have adopted the company's 1.2" and 1.4" round AMOLED displays for future smartwatch products. AUO will begin shipping the displays to these products in Q2 2017 - with shipments expected to reach a million panels per quarter in the second half of 2017.

AUO 1.4'' circular AMOLED display

AUO started producing its 1.4" circular AMOLED display in 2015. The company already ships those to smartwatch makers in China. You can find out more information on AUO's round AMOLED here.

Clearance sale of AUO's square 1.63" 320x320 AMOLED displays

Apr 06, 2017

Our display supplier in China has just received a large quantity of AUO's square 1.63" 320x320 AMOLED displays (with the touch layer), following a cancelled project that had already bought these panels. Those AMOLEDs are now offered at less than half their normal cost.

The supplier has 4,000 units - and this may be a great opportunity to get these panels at a low cost - contact us for more details. These AMOLEDs have a MIPI DSI interface, a size of 32.08x36.48 mm (active area 29.28 x 29.29 mm) and a thickness of 0.7 mm.

AUO starts shipping a new 1.3" on-cell touch 240x240 AMOLED display

Mar 23, 2017

Taiwan's AU Optronics starts shipping a new AMOLED display for wearable (and other) applications. The new AMOLED is a square 1.3" (active area 23.28x23.28 mm) panel with a resolution of 240x240 (261 PPI).

A few days ago we reported that AUO has reportedly managed to increase its AMOLED production yields, and the company is now indeed launching new AMOLED displays and resumes production of smartphone-sized AMOLEDs.

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