Organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) displays have generated considerable excitement in the display industry over the last couple of years, with many experts viewing them as a successor to LCDs in some products. However, the flavor of OLED technology that will lead the market in the future–active matrix OLED (AMOLED)–just got off the ground in early 2003 with the introduction of the first direct-view product to integrate such a display: the Kodak EasyShare LS633 zoom digital camera. The Kodak camera, which began shipping in April, integrates a 2.2-in., 512- by 218-pixel, full-color AMOLED panel. Several companies also have shown prototypes of large-area AMOLED panels that could someday be used in handheld games or even notebook computers.
OLED technology is considered superior to LCD technology mainly because it’s an emissive system, creating its own light rather than relying on modulating a backlight. This means higher contrast, truer colors, crisper motion, and potentially less power consumption. Products with OLED displays have been offered since 1999. However, those displays were all passive-matrix types. Examples include aftermarket car stereo displays from Pioneer, cellular-telephone displays made by Samsung-NEC Mobile Display, and even an electric razor from Philips equipped with an OLED panel.
Moreover, passive-matrix OLED displays can be made with only a limited number of pixels, due to power-consumption issues. Thus, iSuppli/Stanford Resources believes that the AMOLED holds the most promise as the display of choice for small-area to large-area display panels, ultimately driving the market forward.
In many ways, digital still-camera displays are an application perfectly suited for AMOLED technology. One reason is the short lifetime requirement for digital still-camera displays, which are typically expected to function for about 1000 cumulative hours. This level of endurance falls well within the relatively brief operational span of AMOLEDs. Another reason is cost. High-end digital still cameras bear a high price tag, which can help absorb the current high manufacturing cost of the panel.
Furthermore, since the panels don’t require a backlight, the panels can be made extremely thin–an ideal feature for portable systems. A fourth reason is unit volume. The size of the digital still-camera market is still only about 33 million units per year. Therefore, the companies supplying AMOLED panels will not have to supply tens of millions of panels, an amount well beyond the present capability of AMOLED production lines.
According to iSuppli/Stanford Resources, 2004 will be the year of a genuine uptick in growth for AMOLED technology. AMOLED manufacturing capacity is too low now to allow for true mass production, but it should increase by the first quarter of 2004. AMOLED displays will represent an increasing portion of the OLED market. In 2004, 5.7 million AMOLEDs will be sold for revenue of $250 million, representing 16% of the worldwide OLED display units and 46% of revenue, says iSuppli/Stanford Resources.
By 2009, AMOLED products will account for 26% of OLED market units and 71% of the revenue. The total OLED market is expected to reach $3.1 billion in 2009. This is based on the assumption that the overall display industry will grow at a compound rate of 56% from 2003 to 2009.