The Flexible OLED Wearable Future

Steve Sechrist
Fresh concept drawing of Apple iWatch using the LG flexible OLED panel

Fresh concept drawing of Apple iWatch using the LG flexible OLED panel

Flexible DisplayDespite all attempts to the contrary, a 12M unit order for new flexible OLED display panels was simply too hard for LG Display to conceal.  So once again, rumors are circulate that the Korea-based company will be supplying  1.x-inch flex displays to Apple in preparation for debut of the long awaited iWatch, said to ship in September.

Various Korean News sites include DDaily.co.kr and Naver.com, with the former, first posting, then pulling down the data, then fresh postings re appear on the latter site; all with talk of LG’s new flexible OLED display (a G-Flex-like technology) moving into iWatch display mass production this July.  Delivery numbers or targets for the wearable device from Apple are in the 9M range with specifics like multiple sizes, price and quantity all confirming (or repeating) previous reports.

The one suspect fact from recent supply side reports, say LG is the only panel supplier that will produce the imminent Apple iWatch displays.  Previous details include two watch models in 1.3- and 1.5-inch sizes (possibly gender specific) and looking toward the developed nations to first market the rumored sub-$400 devices this September.

For the record, this is uncharacteristic for Apple to single source any critical component (like the display.)  The company likes to hedge its bets with multiple suppliers diminishing the risk of technology components potential to interrupt final product supply.  But risky or not, LG is already shipping its flexible OLED technology in its G-Flex product line.  In March, the company released details on its G-Flex technology plus a new process it developed for plastic substrate flexible OLED materials.  This included using R-G-B OLEDs (not W-OLED with color filter like they use in making OLED TVs.)  LG said they created a new encapsulating method to shield the OLED material layers, with the claim it extends the life of the R-G-B elements.  (See this coverage in our March Display-Central story LG Tips its Flexible Plastic OLED Display.)

But the flexible OLED space is changing fast,  For example, consider the recent Novaled / PlasticLogic partnership with its “featherlight” flexible plastic organic OLED that was shown-off at the 2014 FlexTech conference in February, plus many others showing technology in this space.  Also when it comes to OLED, no one dominates that display space more than Samsung, who is said to have over 90% of that small OLED display market.  The Korean rival to both Apple and LG showed off its Youm flexible technology way back at CES 2013 and our coverage of the Samsung Youm goes back to April 2012.  Our best guess here is the Cupertino, CA based Apple is not ignoring other (proved) options and for small OLEDs, and that means Samsung.

The wearable technology idea is presumably to augment the smart computer already in your pocket with a low-cost, -power, -weight, device that offers hands free access to same.  Ask yourself, do I want a hands free way to access data on my smartphone? Personally, Yes, and in a thin, non obtrusive (Ok, sexy) way.  Not a glass or plastic slab strapped to the wrist, simply because we can.  And it’s that flexible OLED display that’s been the hold-up, perhaps until now.

So take them for what they are, unsubstantiated rumors, but the supply side data makes a compelling case not to be completely ignored.   And while it’s been a long time coming for Apple, a flexible OLED iWatch may finally be mainstream market bound. – Steve Sechrist 

 

 

One Response to The Flexible OLED Wearable Future

  1. Steve,

    Very timely coverage of the flexible display space related to wearables. Do you know if the curved OLED display of the recently introduced Samsung Gear Fit watch is a flexible display based on glass or polymer materials?

    Phil Wright

    Phil Wright
    April 22, 2014 at 6:42 pm

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