At CES 2015 this year, the energy and excitement over the exponential growth of wearable technology was palpable as you entered the exhibit hall at the Sands in Las Vegas. From giant multinational corporations such as Epson to shoestring startups that spring from university labs, hundreds of new products are poised to solve problems from fitness to health to medical applications.
The big question for the display industry is what impact will all this growth have on displays? My initial assessment is “Not much.”
Three factors work against a big boost for the display industry from the wearable markets. First and foremost is that these devices are small by their very nature, leaving little room for a display. In fact, I believe that the most successful products are those that will “disappear” into our lives, and not intrude with blinking lights and flashing displays. As a result, displays are not likely to play an important role, and the displays that are used will be small. It takes a lot of wearable units to use the same display area as a single flat screen television.
The second factor is that these wearable devices are designed to be integrated into a system, rather then serve as stand-alone objects. The Internet of Things (IoT) means that each item contributes information, interacting with other devices to create a system that is greater than the sum of its parts. This means that some devices will “silently” collect and transmit data, leaving the tasks of analysis and reporting to other components in the system. In many cases, these devices will not need to display any information at all; they will rely on other parts of the system to convey this information to the user when needed.
Finally, it is important to note that most users have high resolution displays paired with sophisticated computing power in their pockets already. Smartphones and tablets are mobile devices that have the power to be flexible in the functions that they serve. Just add an app and you can control your home heating or security systems from anywhere in the house, or in the world for that matter. A solution that requires users to purchase an additional display adds unnecessary expense and is likely to be less convenient to use if the user is tied to a proprietary device for control.
As a result, the explosion of the wearable technology markets is not likely to bring much relief to the beleaguered display industry. Millions of units are not likely to require corresponding millions of new displays, and even when information display is required at the device level, it may well be handled by simple segmented displays or even individual LED lights.