Special Wearables Address on Android Wear and Google’s Wish List (WF1)

The opening presentation at the Wearable-Flexible Market Focus Conference organized by IHS at the 2015 SID Display Week was delivered by Sidney Chang, Head of Business Development for Android Wear at Google. Chang opened his presentation with a “display wish list”, and proceeded to deliver a list of requests, recommendations and advice to the display industry audience.

First, Chang cited display size for smartwatch form factor products as one focus area. He pointed out that based on human anatomy and preferences, particularly women’s preferences, there is a need for smaller displays for wearable device designs. Chang pointed out that while younger women (<40 years) prefer a 1.2 inch diameter display, women older than 40 years prefer a 1.0 inch display. (It’s interesting to compare these display dimensions to current available Android smartwatches such as the Motorola 360 which features a 1.56 inch diameter display.) Chang also pointed out the wearable device designers need small and thin displays with a strong preference for narrow bezels.

Android Wear1Source: Google

Google’s Chang next cited battery life as a key issue. He pointed out that the display consumes about 1/3 of the battery life of some wearable devices, thus power consuming display features such as high pixel count and high pixel density (ppi) are not called for or needed. For watches, this is especially the case since the human arm length tends to fix the viewing distance for comfortable display viewing at distances longer than some smartphone users might employ. Chang also pointed out that transflective displays are also of value for improved viewing under daylight.

Chang then moved on to point out the need for display makers to support wearable device makers’ requirements for design variety. For example, he noted that watch marketer Fossil offers more than 8000 SKU’s (models) with over 15 brands. Chang pointed out that display makers need to be responsive to designers’ requests for more variety in display size, shape and performance to enable the designer to field more watch models (SKU’s). Display makers need to provide a complete solution for touch input and information display for new customers designing watch SKU’s selling in 1,000’s to 10,000’s of units each, which is likely to be much lower than some other types of consumer electronic products.

In summarizing his prepared talk, Chang said: 1. There are wearable display market gaps for small, thin displays; 2. There is a need to improve battery life through tradeoffs in display characteristics; and 3. Display makers need to cater to new customers, and support a wide variety of wearable device models (SKU’s) noting that “one size shape, etc. will not satisfy all customers”.

The question and answer portion of Chang’s Special Address reflected the strong audience interest in his topic. A questioner noted that the (Android) operating system (O/S) needs to be responsive to wearable device developers since the O/S must support device and application developers. Another question was directed to what “must haves” are needed for an Android smartwatch. For example, health apps, identity apps, near field communication, etc. The speaker responded citing his belief that “developers will field killer apps”. He then went on to say that the “display is the battery sucking beast” in the watch and that sensor technology may be the next subsystem to look to for power consumption improvements.

Chang noted that users are historically averse to charging a watch. He said he was optimistic that energy harvesting will be brought to bear in wearables. The final topic sparked by audience questions concerned the power consuming nature of some apps. Chang pointed out that apps can be screened for “good” power use and that Google monitors its “featured apps” closely, although he admitted that not all apps will be well behaved with respect to power consumption.

I had the opportunity to speak to Chang after his presentation. I asked him if he was not speaking at a display industry conference would he still cite displays as the hardware component needing the most improvement, as he mentioned in his talk. He said yes, and when asked what he would like to see improved, mentioned the need for round displays, and transflective displays. He also stated that profit margins are challenging in wearable fashion products as retailers soak up a lot of the margin. As a statement on the state of displays and display requirements for the wearable device industry, Chang’s Special Address served as a great overview and stimulated a good deal of audience interest and participation. – Phil Wright