Electronic Design

OLED Displays Spice Up Mobile Phones

With the arrival of newer, slicker display technologies like organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), the LCD looks like the newest "old" technology in the fast-moving mobile handset market. Indeed, OLEDs have strong potential in mobile phones. Yet LCD technology is improving rapidly, providing healthy competition for OLEDs and limiting their market penetration.

OLED displays are attractive to mobile-phone makers because they deliver a high-quality image that doesn't suffer from poor viewing angles, lackluster color, or low brightness levels. OLEDs also are lightweight and increasingly inexpensive. And, they don't need backlighting, making them thinner than LCDs.

OLEDs' thinness brings another key advantage to mobile-phone designs. This edge may be magnified by the use of a thin-film encapsulation layer, eliminating one of the two glass substrates now needed to fabricate OLEDs.

Given these advantages, market research firm iSuppli/Stanford Resources expects shipment revenue of OLEDs for mobile-phone displays, mainly color, to rise to $2.3 billion in 2009. That's up from $195 million in 2003.

LCDs still maintain a cost advantage and are much more widely manufactured and available than OLEDs. So, LCDs will remain the market leader in the mobile-phone display market by a wide margin through 2009. Improvements in LCD technology will temper OLEDs' advantages as well.

With Mitsubishi's double-sided, "reversible" LCD, designers can use a single panel for both the inner and outer displays—i.e., the main display and sub-display—on a clamshell phone. The key innovation is the use of a transparent backlight unit. Two of these units sandwich a single LCD panel between them. The display can be viewed from either side by using one backlight and transmitting the image through the other one. Because the display uses only one LCD panel, it's thinner and costs about a third less than two separate displays, Mitsubishi says.

With the arrival of a viable alternative to LCDs, mobile-phone designers now have more options in display technologies to add new features or to reduce cost, size, and power consumption.

iSuppli/Stanford Resources

See associated figure.

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