Mobile Displays: convergence or divergence?

SAN DIEGO, CA-At last year’s inaugural Society for Information Displays (SID) Hot Topics Conference on Mobile Displays, the overwhelming theme of the conference was the end-user drop in prices for mobile devices that were outpacing new sales, leading to overall revenue reductions and begging the question, “Troubled waters ahead for mobile displays?” (see Optoelectronics Report, October 15, 2006, or www.

SAN DIEGO, CA-At last year’s inaugural Society for Information Displays (SID) Hot Topics Conference on Mobile Displays, the overwhelming theme of the conference was the end-user drop in prices for mobile devices that were outpacing new sales, leading to overall revenue reductions and begging the question, “Troubled waters ahead for mobile displays?” (see Optoelectronics Report, October 15, 2006, or www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/276871). At this year’s second annual Mobile Displays 2007 conference, held October 2-3 and again in San Diego, CA, the revenue downturn was still an issue; however, introduction of the iPhone and other larger-screen mobile applications are seen as possibly fueling increased display-area demand. In addition, a move towards “divergence” of mobile devices due to new technology developments could create a proliferation of new display products and a rosier revenue forecast.

The question of convergence or divergence was debated by multiple speakers-that is; will cell phones and laptops eventually converge towards a universal hand-held device that performs “all” functions for the user (including phone, email, Internet access, GPS, projection display), or will users continue to demand a range of different mobile products such as a basic cell phone and an ultra-mobile personal computer (PC) with a larger screen for more video-oriented tasks? In the opening Mobile Displays Market Overview session, Jim Zhaung, manager of the Display Group at Motorola, was in the camp that saw progress in 2007 towards convergence of music, video, and web services in mobile devices. With sales of more than two million mobile devices per day, Zhaung said that cell phones with their ever-growing list of capabilities (thanks to the innovative technologies of mobile-display manufacturers) may supersede the PC in developing countries. Zhaung sees screen size as the differentiator in the argument for convergence; however, he adds that new technology innovations such as rollable displays and projection displays can create a large-screen viewing experience without the need for a large-screen display.

Presenting his view on mobile computers again this year, Achin Bhowmik, senior manager in the Advanced Video & Display Technology group at Intel (Santa Clara, CA), said that mobile PC sales (laptop computers) are expected to exceed desktop sales by late 2009, and noted that 70% of European purchases are laptops. “A healthy number of us brought our computers,” he said, and looking around the room at the 200 conference attendees and 35 presenters, it seemed that about 1/3 were taking advantage of the wireless Internet and power plugs scattered across the room. The biggest concern among mobile device users, said Bhowmik, is power consumption: the display itself still consumes 30-40% of the overall power budget for a mobile device. Bhowmik described Intel’s Display Power Saving Technology (DPST), use of low-energy E Ink (Cambridge, MA) bistable displays (see www.laserfocusworld.com/ articles/257207), and sub-pixel rendering as several power-saving technologies that Intel was using both internally and in collaboration with other companies. Bhowmik is strong on convergence of functionality (albeit in the larger form factor of an ultra-mobile PC); however, he says that convergence will suffer until power consumption issues can be addressed.

Director of displays Timo Jaatinen from Nokia (Espoo, Finland) provided a more “humanistic” vision of the mobile displays market. “Say ‘no’ to the parameter race” was his message-emphasizing that manufacturers need to move beyond the detailed analysis of brightness, gamut, resolution, luminance, and instead take a more practical look at developing technologies and focus on durability, clarity, color, and a simple user interface that the customer likes. “We need to break a little ice between companies to make this human technology work,” he said, perhaps in an effort to drive the industry towards more technology consolidation and standardization that could make convergence more viable and profitable.

Principal at Walker Mobile (Milpitas, CA) Geoff Walker presented his view of the future of mobile touchscreens, noting that the biggest happening in 2007 was the introduction of Apple’s iPhone with projective-capacitive (or multi-touch) capability. Walker said that four-wire resistive touch is the past, and projective-capacitive touch is the future, noting that there are already more than 10 suppliers of projective-capacitive touch technology. Walker resides in the “divergence” camp, saying that people don’t want to carry just one device; they need a cell phone all the time, but they may want a mobile PC to browse the Internet.

Walker’s divergence message was immediately supported by Barry Young, senior VP at DisplaySearch (Austin, TX). “There are six billion people in the world and one and a half billion read a newspaper every day,” said Young. Perhaps there is a special mobile device out there just for them, he said, cautioning the audience to be careful about convergence. Young presented the last presentation in Session I entitled “The Impact of Wireless Wideband on Mobile Display Technology and Performance,” presenting a quantitative analysis (shipments/forecast) for the mobile-phone market, clearly showing that the one billion mark in mobile-phone sales quantities had indeed been surpassed in 2006. Young sees a drive away from convergence and doesn’t see volume growth in the Intel ultra-mobile PC market, which was possibly trumped by the iPhone. He noted the proliferation of “black market” phones coming out of China with features virtually indistinguishable from the major manufacturers (and taking a bite out of mobile-display profits). But he was optimistic that the growth in shipments of larger display sizes may force a demand for increased flat-panel capacity and an improved revenue outlook.

Session II focused on mobile-display technologies, with presentations from Samsung Electronics, TPO Displays Corporation, Toshiba Matsushita Display Technologies, and Epson Imaging Devices Corporation. Like many other speakers, senior director Jason Yun at Samsung sees a trend towards larger displays with multi-touch capability, coining the term “Portable Navigation Display” or PND for a larger display that can offer gaming, television, and GPS navigation options for automobiles, signaling a “Digital Renaissance”. Toshiba Matsushita made a clear argument for the low-cost merits of conventional thin-film-technology liquid-crystal-device (TFT-LCD) displays, while Epson praised the thinness and better outdoor performance of competing new front-light organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) and transflective LCD display designs.

Sessions III and IV covered mobile-display technology advances, including presentations from iSuppli (forecasts, trends, and technology comparisons), Uni-Pixel Displays (time multiplexed optical shutter or “TMOS” technology), Universal Display Corporation (phosphorescent OLEDs), Liquavista (electrowetting displays), Pelikon (printed flexible displays), and Kopin Corporation (microdisplays and headsets or video eyewear to enlarge the video display). Session V tackled the emerging projection technology market, with presentations from three of the emerging manufacturers, Microvision, Explay, and Light Blue Optics (see www.laserfocus world.com/articles/294191), and sessions VI and VII covered display backlight options and internal architectures, respectively. SID anticipates that there will be a third annual Mobile Displays Conference in 2008.

-Gail Overton

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