Looking back over the past year, there has been on-going progress in making new flexible displays, either reflecting or emitting light. Some are truly flexible, bending into very tight cylinders, others are just wanted for their lower weight from the use of thinner substrates. Other flexible displays can be completely transparent. But, are these new cool features what customers really need, or this simply technology pushing the market into strange places because we can?
First on the wish list are displays that can actually do what they are designed to do. That is to show information over the entire range of ambient conditions. This means even when the sun is beaming down on them reducing the contrast, or dazzling the viewer with its glare making the display unreadable, or when it’s too dark at night to read.
At least reflective e-paper displays can be seen better in sunlight, and for dim ambient lighting, Sony now provides a built-in reading light in their latest PRS 700 e-book reader (see our coverage in the upcoming Mobile Display Report.) Also, Liquavista combines transmission with reflection in their transflective mode of electrowetting.
Next would be such displays with better prospects of brighter color rather than the dimness resulting from use of color filters. Annulex and E Ink now seem to have ’shutter type’ displays that can work without need for color filters, and with faster response speed for Annulex, so there is some hope for this in the mid-term anyway.
Saving power is yet another requirement now receiving attention as mobile uses continue, and even for stationery displays power reduction can help offset the destined rising cost of energy. Reflective bistable displays can do this, but usually not with video speed.
There is the need for sufficiently fast response speed to allow video and use of the Internet. Whilst OLEDs, electrowetting, and MEMS technologies do have such fast speeds, other attributes are sacrificed.
Moving to the more exotic, some have said that flexible displays ability to roll out like a scroll could be the killer application for OLEDs. Despite this, only a few are considering roll-out displays, focusing rather on their weight saving and thinness features.
One rollable display comes from ITRI, which has commissioned PilotFish to design a smartphone with a roll-out E Ink type electrophoretic display. Another is Polymer Vision which has demonstrated its Readius hand held product already.
Nokia also has shown their wrap round ‘Morph’ concept products for cell phones. At the end of December, Italian industrial designer Massimo Marrazzo updated his 81 page free e-book with designs of similar possible products using flexible electronics and displays, which is well worth the read.
About this time last year, whilst beginning our report on E-Paper-Like Displays and Markets, I was suggesting that instead of making the displays larger, just scroll the text up and down a small screen. Now in fact, Scroll Motion and Stanza have announced recently scrolling software for reading e-books with the Apple iPhone.
But will this really catch on so that e-book readers will not be necessary? Actually, the advantages of having a phone and e-book reader as one item seem by some to be really neat, but the disadvantages of short battery life and poor visibility in sunlight using back-lit LCDs seem to have been put to one side, an original raison d’etre for e-book readers using E Ink.
However, if progress continues in longer life, flatter, thinner batteries and solar powered recharging, or the new Mini Pak fuel cell for cell phones from Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, then maybe this is one way forward to have nearly everything, including fast response speed for video.
So which Genie with his magic lantern is going to grant my wishes and come up with a truly power saving, always visible, fast, flexible, color display please? Maybe I will find him at FlexTech’s Flexible Electronics and Displays Conference in Phoenix, Feb 2-5; hope to see you there