The Potential for Change


by Stephen Atwood

We have all been watching the turbulent developments in organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) technology for a long time now. If you scan the Information Display archives, you will find numerous articles covering the evolution of OLED materials, the designs for manufacturing, the problems that existed such as packaging and sealing, and the many examples of work on substrates and active-matrix components, including poly-Si TFTs. Each small evolution has fueled more innovation and investment, but the road has had its challenges as well, both from a business and a technical perspective.

Most of us remember the flurry of discoveries and innovations achieved by scientists at Pioneer and Kodak, as well as at Universal Display Corp. (UDC) and Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) over the last decade. Kodak soon partnered with Sanyo, but the effort was unfortunately cut short by economics. CDT and UDC continued on to be joined by Samsung, Sony, LG, Dupont, and many others to form the backbone of the enabling technology we have today.

Unfortunately, as Barry Young points out in his article "OLEDs – Promises, Myths, and TVs," most of the early startups focusing on passive-matrix technology floundered for several technical and business reasons, but in the end it usually came down to the problem every new technology faces: will consumers pay a reasonable premium for the benefits of a new technology long enough for the infrastructure to become mature and the economies of scale to properly develop? If an emerging technology truly addresses an unfulfilled need or it can realize real economic advantages over existing technology, then it has at least a chance to become mainstream.

I think the prospects are a lot brighter for active-matrix OLED technology, and as you can read in our feature article, "Emerging Technologies for the Commercialization of AMOLED TVs," by Hye Dong Kim, et. al. from Samsung, the advantages of AMOLED technology for TV applications are numerous and highly promising. Promising enough, in fact, that I think this will be a much more disruptive technology than plasma, at least in comparison to the TV marketplace. While liquid-crystal technology is unlikely to be totally unseated in TV products, I do think there is the real possibility that cell phones and other mobile devices could be using exclusively AMOLED displays within the next 10 years. This prediction is supported by author Antti Lääperi in his article, "Disruptive Factors in the OLED Business Ecosystem," although Antti is more cautious than I am. He predicts a limited or partial disruption in certain key applications such as hand-held devices. I think the disruption will be broader, but with the timing somewhat uncertain. Product manufacturers such as Nokia and device manufacturers such as Samsung do not enter into these endeavors without a great deal of analysis and investigation. If they choose to make a strategic decision to develop AMOLED products with their considerable resources at hand, they probably understand the end-game potential pretty well.

Our Guest Editor this month is Julie Brown, CTO of Universal Display Corp. Julie has lived the path of innovation in OLED materials for many years now and has been a key force in developing a very successful IP portfolio at UDC. As pioneers, Julie and UDC can bear witness to the real challenges of developing new technologies and the problems caused when the hype gets ahead of the substance. As such, there are few people in the industry with as much perspective and experience, which is why we welcome Julie back for another year as our Guest Editor for our OLED issue.

Now that September is in full swing, and many children around the world are back in school, it seems like a good time to look at display technology that may not be at the cutting-edge corporate-funded level like OLEDs, but that also has potential to bring about important changes. Some of the people in our Brazil SID chapter have been focusing on the methodologies of effectively integrating technology into the classroom, recognizing that computer literacy and technology education are key elements for the success of the next generation's young people. In order to integrate computers into schools, the cost must be low, and in the case of the typical laptop and tablet PC, the display is still one of the most expensive components. As you can read this month in their article "Back to School with Tablets Embedded in Digital Desks," there are many challenges to achieving a fully electronic educational setting, but the authors have been exploring some very interesting ideas with regard to digital desktops. This type of focus in integrating education with computers and displays will surely bring about needed changes, not only in Brazil but in the rest of the world. Those of us atInformation Display look forward to these and countless other developments that display technology continues to make possible. •