Qualcomm MEMS Technologies (QMT)., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated, and Chinese manufacturer Hisense Communication Co., Ltd. have announced the industry’s first collaboration slated to bring to market mobile phones with Qualcomm MEMS displays in 2008. According to a recent press release, Qualcomm has developed the industry’s first direct view MEMS display for mobile devices - an innovation that is said to offer "sharp display clarity in a wide range of environmental conditions, including bright sunlight."
Qualcomm’s MEMS display is a reflective technology called interferometric modulation (IMOD). It uses ambient light to see the display, so no backlight is needed, thereby consuming less power than typical displays. An additional advantage is that they are bi-stable, meaning that once they have been switched to a state, they will hold that state without requiring electrical current.
The MEMS technology employs microscopic mechanical switches that turn pixels on and off at rates fast enough to display video. Each pixel consists of several color-specific cells made up of two reflective layers. The top layer is only partially reflective, allowing some light to pass through it and bounce off the second surface. The gap between these surfaces is spaced so that constructive interference occurs for only one specific range of wavelengths. A full-color display is made up of three different types of cells. In order to deliver displays in mass production quantities, the displays are fabricated much like silicon devices, on large glass substrates, and using semiconductor-like and thin-film manufacturing processes to produce tiny and highly-reliable mechanical devices.
We have followed QMT’s progress for years, so the announcement with Hisense is a major design win and a great step forward in their commercialization path.
Hisense, which ranks among China’s top 10 electronics manufacturers, has an annual output of four million CDMA mobile phones, and net assets totaling US $772 million. "This collaboration with Qualcomm bodes well for the future of the wireless market and is of great strategic significance to Hisense," said Shi Yongchang, general manager of Qingdao Hisense. "We look forward to launching more innovative products, in cooperation with Qualcomm, to better serve our customers."
Qualcomm has also established a strategic alliance with Prime View International, a leading manufacturer of small- and medium-format display modules, to commercialize the displays. The first versions of the display will be monochrome, and one is already offered in an Audiovox Bluetooth headset. A two-color display will be used in the Hisense phone and full-color versions are said to be in the product pipeline.
It is possible that e-paper, or flexible displays, long sought after as a novel approach to displaying information, may be enabled by this technology, provided the substrate is tough enough to stand up to moderate physical abuse. In the meantime, the promise of a daylight-viewable display, that can potentially increase the time between charges, should be a powerful competitive feature in the next generation of cell phones. I’ve long been annoyed that the evolution of cell phones from monochrome to color displays was a major step backwards in functionality, as using a cell phone in bright sunlight is next to impossible. The improvement is long overdue. -AC