Pivot Time

Display Technology – So many web-ventures find they need to change course after starting-up that pundits call this “the pivot”. Pivoting away from the initial business plan and taking investors down a different path has become an expected part of building a business, so much so that some commentators do not take start-ups seriously until the founders pivot away from their initial target.

We display people tend to think about business cycles rather than pivots. We are familiar with a nominal three-year cycle of panel price booms and busts. Those keep repeating no matter what market we serve. We seem less conscious of the nominal six-year pivot cycle when the industry changes course after saturating the market for the former next big thing.

It may be said pivots occur because every invention carries the seed of its own destruction. A more positive statement may be that every successful idea ripens and falls to nurture a new idea… that the industry pivots in a new direction as the promise of the past is fulfilled. Let us consider past cycles and pivots.

1998–1999: Japan transfers a-Si AMLCD technology to Taiwan after establishing a notebook PC market, then pivots towards LTPS as a means of retaining value. AMLCD capacity doubles and notebooks begin replacing desktops.

2001–2002: One-drop fill is perfected and incorporated in Gen-5 fabs as producers learn how to cut more than six panels from mother glass. Capacity becomes fungible and the race is on for desktop PC share.

2004–2005: Column spacers and other advances enable very large panels so that LCD TV becomes the next big thing. CRT makers begin to fail or reorganize as LCD alternatives appear and LTPS seems to disappear.

2007–2008: Smartphones appear. PC market peaks and the LCD TV market matures. Panel makers pivot away from large panels and allocate more capacity for small panels. The race is on for touch panel share.

2010–2011: Dreams of LTPS II and hopes for IGZO drive technology bets. Pads and slates become PC alternatives. Stereoscopic TV becomes the next big thing and OLED TV is coming, trust me.

2013–2014: China develops high-spec, low price supply chains and smartphones become commodities as the promise of small panels is fulfilled. Panel makers begin to pivot back toward large panels and promote 60” UHD LCD TV. The race is on for size and resolution in both large and no-longer-so-small displays.

How else are we to make sense of recent news?

Samsung pivots away from OLED TV toward QD+LCD and offers OLED to Chinese smartphone competitors.

  • Japan Display starts competing on price in the Chinese market.
  • Chinese makers stop issuing press releases about their OLED plans.
  • Everyone talks about flexible displays but no one makes any.
  • Overcapacity appears in the touch sensor market; Wintek suffers.
  • Almost every non-display maker announces a VR or AR prototype.

It looks like pivot time to me. Having built more capacity than can be employed profitably and learning how to make panels from 1” to 100” look great, the industry is searching for the next big thing. I expect to see a pivot toward subpixel rendering technologies and increased functional integration. Higher resolution 8K TV is a good thing for panel makers and brands in the lead. In-cell, on-cell and TDDI are good things for chip makers and panel makers in the lead. – David Barnes