El Segundo, Calif. — Demand for wearable electronics, initially fueled by smartwatch computing, is forecast to drive rapid growth for display panels over the next several years. IHS Technology forecasts industry revenue will increase from a projected $300 million in 2014 to more than 80 percent annually for at least four more years as high resolution and color displays are increasingly adopted in wearable devices. The wearable electronics market is expected to be diverse ranging from gaming and infotainment applications to health and fitness monitoring.
IHS Technology expects the display panel market to reach $22.7 billion by 2023. This translates into 800 million units shipped in 2023, up from 54 million in 2014.
“Wearables are best viewed as functional fashion accessories rather than as electronic goods,” said Sweta Dash, senior director for research and display at IHS, said in a statement. “But because the fashion accessory market is determined by design rather than by simple function, wearable products such as smartwatches must be adaptable to various forms including squares, circles or even ovals.”
A few of the latest offerings come from Samsung, LG, Sony, Asus, Motorola, and Apple. At the recent IFA show, Samsung showed its Gear S smartwatch, which features a curved screen and a 2-inch super active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) flexible display that is large enough to accommodate a keyboard, said IHS.
Also announced at IFA is LG’s G Watch R with a completely circular screen, featuring a panel thickness of less than 0.6 mm. With a 1.3-inch diameter, the round display has 57 percent more area than a square screen, said IHS. Key features of the P-AMOLED panel include 320 x 320 resolution, 100-percent color gamut, 300-nits peak luminance and unlimited contrast ratio, which is typical of an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display, said the market research firm.
IHS reports that LG Display recently started mass production of its circular plastic P-OLED screen, thanks to the company’s development of a circular mask and new production processes that improve deposition efficiency and use highly precise laser cutting. In addition, LG Display’s power-save mode, which enables the screen to retain its resolution without a power supply, has contributed to longer battery life, said IHS.
Motorola’s Moto 360 also features a round screen. Both the LG and Motorola models are powered by Android Wear as extensions of the Android smartwatch ecosystem, while the Samsung Gear S uses Samsung’s Tizen operating system, said IHS.
Apple also recently announced the Apple Watch, which will be available at the start of 2015. Although details were not released, the Apple Watch features a square display and uses a flexible Retina display. IHS expects it will be an OLED display based on the announced features including flexibility, high-energy efficiency and very high contrast.
Developments in flexible displays are expected to open up new opportunities for wearable devices, and require three essential elements, stated Dash. “These include outdoor visibility, low power consumption and flexibility in form factor and design. New forms of display, such as stretchable panels that are expected to come in the near future, can meet even more demanding designs in wearables, creating possibilities for exotic shapes and forms.”
Other trends cited include low-power flexible displays with longer battery lives that enable increased functionality in smaller form factors, and a move to OLED display technology that features “excellent flexibility, faster response time and great video quality.”
IHS analysts believe most wearable products are not ready for mainstream consumer adoption for several reasons, including price, performance, form factor, and usability. In addition, a clear value proposition will be needed for consumers to accept the design and available applications.
However, a recent survey from Multi-sponsor Surveys Inc. reveals that smartwatches have big appeal to millennials. The report finds that nearly four in ten (36 percent) millennials have some interest in buying a smartwatch in the next 12 months and more than one in ten (13 percent) have a strong interest. A big reason is that most millennials are knowledgeable about smartwatches, and more aware of brands for these new “computerized wristwatches.” The findings are part of Multi-sponsor’s 2014 Watch Brand Index Tracking study.
"It may only be a matter of time before smartwatches catch on with all consumers as they offer a far more convenient and less obtrusive means of staying connected than smartphones—a flip of the wrist versus reaching for (or searching for) your phone,” said Lindsay Diehl, account representative, Multi-sponsor Surveys, in a statement.