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

OLED for VR and AR Market Report

Fraunhofer, Holst and VTT developed a new flexible OLED lighting bracelet produced at the EU PI-SCALE line

The Fraunhofer FEP, together with VTT and the Holst Center developed a new wearable OLED lighting bracelet, one of the first one of the first flexible organic electronic product to be produced at the European PI-SCALE pilot production line.

Wearable OLED bracelet (Fraunhofer / FTT / Holst)

The yellow and red OLED deposition in this prototype was performed at the Fraunhofer FPP (which can handle both sheet-to-sheet and roll-to-roll processes), while the barrier web was produced at the Holst Centre. VTT integrated the OLEDs into the bracelet. Such a bracelet, with its low power consumption, could be used as a security device, as a fashion jewelry, and more.

Skyworth demonstrates a flexible OLED bracelet at CES 2018

Last week we posted about Skyworth's CES booth, where the company reportedly demonstrated new household appliances that utilize flexible AMOLED displays. It turns out that Skyworth also unveiled a smart bracelet that utilizes a flexible OLED

Skyworth flexible OLED bracelet-prototype (CES 2018)

This seems to be a very early prototype device, as the engineering is crude and it appears just to show an image - but still it is nice to see companies testing flexible OLED based designs.

Facebook launches the affordable Oculus Go VR headset with a fast-switch LCD

Oculus (Facebook) announced its new affordable VR headset, the Oculus Go. This $199 device will launch early next year for $199 and Facebook hopes that this will be a step towards its goal to get one billion people to use its VR products.

Oculus Go launch event (LCD slide)

One of the ways that Oculus used to lower the cost of to Go headset is to switch from an OLED to an LCD. Oculus says that this is a "fast-switch LCD". It's too early to say how this display will compare to the current OLED used in the Oculus Rift. Looking at the slide above, it seems that the Go uses a single 2560x1440 LCD.

Valve says that recent advances in LCDs bring it up to par with OLED displays for VR applications

US-based video game developer Valve has announced that it will license more of its VR technology to hardware makers that can develop VR HMDs based on its technology. In addition to the tracking and input tech that was already licensed before, HMD makers can now use Valve's optical system, calibration tools and a supporting software stack.

HTC Vive photo

Currently pretty much all high-end HMD devices adopt OLED displays as these panels offer faster refresh rates compared to LCDs. But Valve says that recent LCD advancements combined with VR specific calibration now make LCD a viable technology choice for high end VR systems.

The Fraunhofer FEP demonstrate AR/VR dataglasses based on its SVGA bi-directional OLED microdisplays

The Fraunhofer FEP institute has successfully integrated its bi-directional OLED microdisplays into an VR / AR HMD (or dataglasses, as the Fraunhofer calls it) for 2D and 3D content.

Multifunction OLED data-glasses (2017, Fraunhofer FEP)

The new HMD demonstrator uses the Fraunhofer's SVGA (800x600) displays and connects via a USB interface and an HDMI connection. The bi-directional displays can be used for eye tracking to support novel user interfaces.

Innolux starts producing small flexible AMOLED displays

Taiwan-based Innolux has started to produce flexible AMOLED displays, starting with a round 1.39-inch 400x400 (287 PPI) panel. The new AMOLED is aimed towards wearable (smart-watch) applications and is now in mass production.

It is great to see another display producer entering the OLED market. This is also the first flexible AMOLED on the market besides those made by Samsung and LG Display. Innolux is willing to sell these panels to low-volume customers, contact us for more details. You can also view the full technical specifications of the new AMOLED here.