Display technologies have evolved significantly over the past decade. Flat panels, bigger and thinner screens, increased pixel density, and the more recent, curved displays have enabled growth in several markets such as smartphones, televisions, and laptops. Display technology is one of the key selling factors for different smartphone brands, where customers expect a high-definition viewing experience. As the industry’s Mega Trends suggest, adoption of smartphones will keep increasing, and data transfers dominated by video and pictures will be high. This implies that consumers are spending more hours per day using smartphones to watch videos or to use social media, which demands a high-quality viewing experience. Therefore, the situation clearly emphasizes the growing demand for improvements in display technology. More energy efficiency, increased lifespan, lesser radiation impact for the eyes and increased responsive capabilities are factors that create demand for improvement. In addition, bendability, comfortable viewing experience for the human eye, and information displays in wearables are compelling technological developments. Technology such as OLEDs and micro-LEDs are among the latest developments that the industry has to offer to satisfy some of the market demand. Hence, this report will focus on exploring developments in the OLED and micro-LED market.
Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are technically different from Light Emitting Diodes (LED) and Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs). The LEDs and LCDs utilize an external light source, but the OLEDs are made of a carbon-based organic material that self-emits light when electricity is passed through. The carbon-based emissive material is placed in between the cathode and anode, and other layers are added to drive efficiency and durability of the device. OLEDs are also known for their bendability, as found in smart phones such as the Samsung S7 Edge.
The materials and processing technologies used in OLEDs enable advancements in display technology. As in the case of OLED displays, the broad classification of materials used are the Small-Molecule OLED (SM-OLED) and the large molecule Polymer OLED (POLEDs). POLEDs gained popularity in the industry due to their ability to be manufactured by ink-jet printing technology. However, the performance of POLEDs could not match the SMOLEDs, and therefore the industry is focusing is its research efforts on the latter. The lifespan of OLEDs has always been challenging, and considering that cheaper processing technologies are yet to develop, the technology remains costly at the moment. To manage this challenge, the industry is using fluorescent- and phosphorescent-based materials cleverly; fluorescent materials have a longer lifespan, but phosphorescent material is more efficient. Hence, OLED displays are primarily using phosphorescent materials for red and green colors, and choose fluorescent for blue to compensate on the low lifetime of the color blue.
Based on the driving method of OLED displays, the technology is further classified into Active-Matrix OLED (AMOLED), and Passive Matrix OLED (PMOLED). The PMOLEDs finds its application in smaller displays and secondary displays, while AMOLEDs finds its main stream application in smartphones, tablets, and TV screens. AMOLEDs are more efficient than PMOLEDs and are scalable, but the technology is complicated to manufacture, resulting in higher costs.
While OLEDs deliver a higher viewing experience, the technology faces several challenges. The lifetime and efficiency of the color blue is concerning market participants. Furthermore, the industry is also looking to improve on production processes, encapsulation, and backplane for flexible OLEDs.
The key market participants for OLED technology are LG and Samsung. Samsung produces more AMOLED displays and is utilizing the technology in smartphone models released by the company. Samsung initially focused on OLED displays, however, due to the high cost and low efficiency, the focus has shifted to Quantum Dots LED displays (QLEDs). LG is focused on producing OLEDs, with larger screens. LG has investments in the production of flexible display OLEDs as well, and is focused on dominating the market.
This technology was first invented in the year 2000 in the United States, which was based on Indium gallium nitride (InGaN) semiconductors. Micro-LED technology is similar to OLED, as both are self-emitting. Therefore, micro-LEDs will also offer high-contrast ratios and deep blacks. The primary difference between OLEDs and micro-LEDs is in the materials; a micro-LED is made of semiconductor materials (inorganic), and the size of the component is less than 100um for which it is called a micro-LED. An array of micro-LEDs are arranged to form the individual pixel element. The market for micro-LEDs has generated much interest among leading brands, including Apple and Samsung, which have bought micro-LED start-up companies. The micro-LED market has potential applications in smart watches, Near-to-Eye (NTE) wearables, signage, and automotive displays. Furthermore, micro-LEDs are expected to have a longer lifespan and response time than OLEDs; this generates more interest for micro-LEDs. Reports also suggest that Samsung is poised to develop a 150-inch micro-LED TV in 2018.
Although the micro-LED market is at its early stages, it is expected to grow well in the next few years.
Display technology has always been a marketable feature across consumer products such as smartphones, tablets, and televisions. Advancements in technology such as micro-LEDs and OLEDs have been able to satisfy demands for a better viewing experience, efficiency, and improved aesthetics; these technologies are also poised to increase product lifespan further than earlier technologies. Therefore, the micro-LED and OLED market will sustain interest among market participants in the coming years, and will play a central role in adding benefits to end users.