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

PlayNitride shows advanced flexible and transparent Micro-LED displays

PlayNitride demonstrated its latest Micro-LED displays at SID DisplayWeek 2019 - a 7.56" 720x480 (114 PPI) transparent MicroLED, a flexible Micro-LED on a polyimide substrate and a high-brightness, high-resolution passive matrix MicroLED aimed towards wearable applications.

PlayNitride aims to release its first Micro-LED display products by the end of 2019. In 2017 the company started to sample micro-LED panels and shipped samples to 10-20 potential customers.

DSCC: smartwatch OLED display shipments to grow 28% in 2019

DSCC says that shipments of smartwatch OLED displays grew 124% in the first quarter of 2019, and the company expects yearly shipments to grow 28% in 2019 to reach 63.9 million units.

Smartwatch OLED shipments (2018-2019, DSCC)

Even though each single display is small (around 1.4-inch), smartwatches are the third largest OLED application in terms of revenues (after smartphones and TVs) and total revenues will reach $1.5 billion in 2019.

OLED Handbook

Huawei says it shipped over 2 million Watch GT smartwatches

Huawei launched its Watch GT smartwatch in October 2018, and the company announced it shipped over 2 million units so far. This is great news for Huawei - although its not clear how the recent US ban on Huawei will effect future sales.

Huawei Watch GT photo

The Watch GT has a 1.39" 454x454 round AMOLED display (likely made by AU Optronics) and features an optical 6-LED heart rate sensor, a GPS and a power-saving algorithm that allows the Watch GT to have a claimed 2-week battery life for frequent use mode. The Watch GT is now shipping starting at $199.99 (note: affiliate link to Amazon).

Louis Vuitton demonstrates a handbag with two flexible OLED screens

Fashion house Louis Vuitton demonstrated a bag with two flexible OLED displays (calling it a "Canvas Display") at the company's "Cruise 2020" show in New York earlier this week:

This is not the first Louis Vuitton OLED design - in 2017 it launched the Tambour Horizon, an Android Wear smartwatch that featured a 1.4" 390x390 round AMOLED . In 2019 the device was updated with a smaller 1.3" display.

Microdisplay Technologies for AR and HUDs

The following is a guest article, by Assaf Levy-Beeri, Co-founder at Joya Team

MicroDisplays are used in a variety of applications. First introduced into the market in the 90s, microdisplays were used as an image source for Rear Projection TVs (RPTVs), projectors, viewfinders for digital cameras and Helmet Mounted Display systems (HMDs).

Today, while the demand for wearable products is increasing and the potential wearable market size is very high, microdisplay market is expected to grow dramatically. Augmented Reality (AR) and smart glasses, Helmet Mounted Displays , Virtual Reality (VR) systems and Head-Up Display (HUD) systems are the main applications where a high-resolution microdisplay is required. Correspondingly, the technology is improving all the time and microdisplays manufacturers make significant investments in order to improve their technology and products performances. In addition, new technologies and manufacturers enter this field.

The foldable Nubia Alpha smartband is now shipping in China

In September 2019 Nubia unveiled the Alpha - smartband that turns into a smartphone - with a foldable OLED display. Nubia said it will launch its Alpha foldable smartband by the end of 2018, but later updated the launch date to April 2019.

Nubia has started to accept pre-orders for the Alpha which will start shipping tomorrow in China only for now - for 3499 Yuan (around $520). The first device to ship is the Bluetooth variant - and Nubia plans to release an eSim variant which will cost around $625 and will launch in Q3 2019.

IHS: smartwatch display shipped soared from 9.4 million units in 2014 to almost 150 million in 2018

IHS says that recent years have seen a drastic growth in smartwatch shipments - the market grew from 9.4 million units in 2014 to 149 million units in 2018. In just one year, shipments grew 42% from 2017 to 2018.

Smartwatch display shipments by technology (IHS, 2014-2018)

This rising demand for smartwatches has of course created a rising demand for displays. OLED displays are leading this segment - with around 80% of shipments in 2018 (the rest are mostly LCD displays). AMOLED display shipments were around 42 million and PMOLED shipments reached around 75 million.

LG to brand its CSO OLED as Display Speaker

Last month LG Electronics announced its G8 ThinQ with its 6.1" 1440x3120 Crystal Sound OLED. According to a new trademark filing, LG now aims to brand its CSO OLEDs as "Display Speaker".

LG G8 ThinQ photo (Seoul, March 2019)

A Crystal Sound OLED, or Display Speaker turns the flexible OLED display into high end speakers. This innovating OLED technology works for smartphones, TVs and also OLED lighting panels. In LG's trademark filing, it also hints that this technology will be used in future wearable displays.