Article last updated on: Aug 11, 2019

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. Plasma displays 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. Simple wearables such as fitness bands usually adopt PMOLED displays, while smartwatches and VR headsets opt for AMOLEDs. Here's more information about AMOLED vs. PMOLED technologies.



The OLED wearables market

OLED displays are very popular in the wearables market - thanks to the great image quality, the low power consumption and to the design possibilities enabled by flexible OLEDs. Here's our comprehensive list of wearable devices that use OLED displays.

Latest Wearable OLED news

LGD considers shutting down its E2 OLED production line due to the company's financial problems

LG Display is currently producing flexible AMOLED displays for Apple's smartwatches in its E2 4.5-Gen line in Paju. The company hasn't been able to improve its financials as LCD prices are under pressure, and following a recent managerial shuffle, it is now reported that LGD is considering shutting down its E2 line.

Apple Watch Series 5 photo

The E2 production capacity is around 20,000 substrates per month, but it is less economical than LG's larger OLED lines, the E5 and E6 lines which are 6-Gen lines. LG will reportedly move production from its E2 line to its larger lines.

Apple announces its 2019 iPhone and Watch lineup

Yesterday Apple announced its 2019 iPhone and Watch Lineup - with all the devices but one with OLED displays. We'll start with the iPhone 11 Pro which uses a 5.8" notch-type 2436x1125 (458 PPI) AMOLED display and features Apple's latest A13 Bionic chip, 64/256/512GB of storage, a triple camera setup, HDR, FaceID - and is water and dust resistant.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro photo

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is quite similar, but it offers a bigger display - a 6.5" 2688x1242 AMOLED (same PPI - 458). Both phones will ship on September 20. The iPhone 11 Pro starts at $999 while the iPhone 11 Pro Max starts at $1,099.

OLED Handbook

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.

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.

Cambridge Isotope Laboratories - Deutreated Reagents and High-Purity Gases for OLEDsCambridge Isotope Laboratories - Deutreated Reagents and High-Purity Gases for OLEDs