Tuesday, December 7, 2010

OLED: Flexible devices, transparent screens and organic lamps

From design perspective if you could improve your TV or the screen of your cell phone, what would you change? Maybe you would make it thinner, lighter, or increase its resolution. If you are a futurist, you would make it bendable, round, triangular or any other shape you like. If you are an environmentalist, you would build it with components that are easily disposable in nature. You would most likely prefer lower power consumption.

Well, all these features are possible. Not in 2020, but today! The technology that makes it possible is OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes). Although currently not very popular due to its high production cost, OLED screens are already used in various devices such as cell phones, PDAs, and digital cameras [1].

As for TVs, Sony made one, 11 inch (28cm, small screen for a TV) XEL-1 TV in 2007. The TV was on sale for $2,000! LG is working on bringing 32-inch and 42-inch OLED televisions next year. Considering that their 15 inch OLED screen was on sale for $2,500 in 2009, these TVs will not be cheap for an average consumer yet!

15-inch, ultra-thin OLED screen by LG.

Although extensive use of OLED will take some, it promises great uses in the following areas:

1) Curved, non-flat surfaces

You can have your screen placed on any shaped object. Flat surface is not needed with OLEDs. One picture is worth thousand words, so please see the image below:

Flexibility of OLED screens.

2) Wearable devices

The image below shows a prototype Samsung cell phone that can be wrapped around your wrist. The phone has an OLED screen.

Concept smart phone designed by Erik Campbell

3) Transparent devices

Since OLED devices can be manufactured so thin and transparent, they can be placed on auto windshields. In other words, your dashboard can be replaced with a transparent screen on your front window.

Lexus 2010 RX has a white OLED display supplementing the main 8" display. Volkswagen has a new hybrid car concept (L1) that an OLED display in the dashboard. A company named Novaled is working with European car makers on interior OLED lighting solutions. They say that a car that uses their panels might be on the market by 2012. Epson showed a beautiful 8" OLED for automobile dashboards. Epson is also talking with auto companies to embed this in their cars.

Epson’s cool looking OLED car dashboard

OLED’s transparency finds use in other areas such as TV and computer displays. Again let’s demonstrate this with a picture of HP’s LiM concept desktop using a 19 inch OLED screen.

HP LiM desktop with OLED screen

4) Lamps, panels and other light sources

OLEDs naturally emit light. This enables OLED to be used as light sources, lamps. Since power consumption is lower for OLEDs than all the other lamps available in the market today, they promise to take significant share in light source markets. Another advantage of OLED is that it does not contain bad metals such as mercury, thus making it more environmental friendly. As our environmental concerns arise, this will be a significant edge for the sales of OLED lamps.

Several companies including Philips, GE, UDC, and CDT are producing OLED displays using ink-jet systems - "printing" the OLED materials. This can prove to be a quick and cheap way to make organic light panels. There are three companies that already offer OLED panels: Philips, Osram and Japan's Lumiotec. These are just “design samples” that carry a very high price [2].

OLED Lighting Manufacturing Roadmap, March 2009

A lot of companies (Philips, Kodak, Konica Minolta, Universal Display, ModisTech, Pioneer collaborating with Mitsubishi, OSRAM, GE, Samsung, LG Chem, UDC, and China's Visionox) are working towards OLED lighting products. Both OSRA and Philips sell panels online, but these are very expensive samples and not real commercial products yet.

Philips OLED lamp

OLED market’s future:

OLED displays represent a fast growth opportunity in handset display market. The growth rate is estimated to be at a 41.4 per cent CAGR from 2009 to 2015, compared to 8 per cent for 2009 to 2013 for all types of displays for handsets.

Global OLED shipments for mobile devices

Flexible OLED technology will account for the vast majority of mobile displays and become main-stream for TVs within the next five years, according to Sang-Soo Kim, CTO of Samsung Mobile Display. Kim said OLED for mobile screens started in 2007, moving from 2.1 million in 2007 to about 45 million units this year, including the 4-inch display in Samsung Galaxy S phone. Kim said he expected OLED displays to grow to 45 million units, or an 8.2 percent penetration of the market this year, growing to 600 million units and a 53 percent penetration by 2015 [3].

This potential growth is mostly backed by heavy research in traditional lightning companies as well as imaging and optics companies and OLED technology providers. The proof comes with a closer look into filed patents on OLED: A recent study says over 1,800 patents got filed in developed nations (EU, JP and US) on only white OLED for lightning applications. The study also estimates the explosive growth in OLED lighting patents to continue over the next 5 years and that government funding, government legislation and commercialization will help drive OLED lighting into homes [4].

Distribution of OLED patents in various fields and sectors


With its high growth rate in various markets and obvious advantages over competitive products, OLED is definitely a technology that needs to be watched for future investments. It will present creative opportunities for uses of electronic devices in many areas. Although the price is a major concern at this time, like in other display technologies the price will diminish to acceptable levels for consumers via technological advances and increasing mass production.


[1] List of devices currently using OLED. http://www.oled-info.com/devices
[2] Introduction to OLED displays and TVs. http://www.oled-info.com/
[3] Samsung Expects 1 Billion OLED Displays in 5 Years, PC Magazine, May 2010
[4] OLED lighting patent filings see explosive growth since 2000. Analysis by Craig Cruickshank at Cintelliq, UK.