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

Has Samsung developed its own LTPO OLED technology?

Apple developed its LTPO backplane technology for OLED displays to enable power saving of around 5-15% compared to LTPS AMOLEDs. LTPO was adopted in Apple's Watch Series 4 and Watch Series 5 smart watches - with the panels produced by LG Display using Apple's technology and IP.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 photo

According to a new report from Korea, Samsung has recently developed its own brand of LTPO backplane technology and has started to produce such panels - which are adopted by the company's latest smart watch, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 (which recently started shipping). The watch has a 1.2" 360x360 or 1.4" 360x360 round AMOLED displays.

Japan Display starts to produce OLED displays, probably for Apple's watch

In April 2019 Reuters reported that Japan Display (JDI) signed a deal with Apple to supply it with AMOLED displays for its smartwatches, and today JDI's new CEO Minoru Kikuoka said that the company recently started producing OLED displays - likely indeed this is low volume production for Apple's wearables.

Apple Watch Series 5 photo

Apple's Watch Series 5 (its latest generation) features a 324x394 1000-nits always-on LTPO AMOLED display (368x448 on the 44m model). Apple is currently buying these OLED displays exclusively from LGD.

OLED Handbook

DSCC: OLED panel revenues to reach $46.2 billion in 2023, lowers its OLED TV forecasts

DSCC says that OLED panel unit shipments will reach 1.06 billion by 2023. The growth will peak in 2020 (with a 27% unit growth and 25% revenue growth from 2019). Overall revenues for OLED panels will grow from $26.5 billion in 2018 to $46.2 billion in 2023.

OLED display area production by application (2017-2023, DSCC)

DSCC says that it lowered its OLED TV forecast for 2020-2023, as LGD is delaying both its Guangzhou 8.5-Gen fab ramp up and its P10 10.5-Gen line by one year. New LCD technologies, including dual-cell LCD and miniLEDs will also hurt the growth of the OLED TV market. DSCC further reports that LG Electronics will not be able to reach its 2 million OLED TV goal in 2019 - and have asked LGD to supply it with only 2.5 million OLED TV panels in 2020 (the original plan was to supply 3.5 million panels to LGE).

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.

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.