In the second part of our journey, our General Manager Paul Mullen discusses what he believes will be the display and embedded technology industry drivers over the next five years and beyond. It’s about style and substance, with new shapes, sizes, and contours to design with, and advanced energy-efficient, and flexible technologies coming onto the market.
Today there are numerous markets and opportunities for high-tech products, and their increasing intelligence can support sophisticated user interactions. A display is often the mainstay of the user interface, combined imaginatively with any combination of audio, touch, gesture control, or haptics. It’s fortunate that designers now have plenty of options to get the effects they want. New sizes and shapes are emerging, (read part 1 of the series), curved full-colour displays, and flexible displays are now commercially viable, too. Let’s take a closer look.
Look at things differently with Circular
Designers now have a wealth of choices available to create products that simply look different and eyecatching and thereby gaining them competitive advantage, particularly in the consumer space.
One of the trends we see really taking off is the use of circular displays, and it’s happening in a variety of markets. Applications ranging from simple boiler controls to large clusters of dials are are adopting circular electronic displays to replace traditional mechanical dials for a more modern appearance and greater flexibility to display extra information.
We are seeing a lot of interest for ‘cluster panels’ in automotive and marine applications. A display can replace a complete dashboard of mechanical dials, improving reliability and simplifying vehicle assembly. I think this trend has a real long-term future. We’ve already seen circular displays come into consumable watches and other similar-sized devices.
There are important opportunities for new and stylish displays to take a prominent role in improving home-based care and security for the elderly – many products in the market are still based on the traditional alarm-type systems, which are clunky and old fashioned. The equipment requirements in the medical-at-home are unlike those of really high-end medical, where a raft of medical-specific certifications are required, so there is more freedom to experiment with display technologies and styles, as well as features such as real-time health and safety monitoring to help people live comfortably and securely in their own homes later into life.
What are Flexible Displays?
Flexible displays are among the most exciting and practical developments in the industry right now, and have a very strong future. Feedback from events such as this year’s Mobile World Congress suggests that while some companies are talking about it they are reluctant to let people get up close or sample it. You can look, but you can’t touch – that’s rather ironic. There were approximately five companies promoting flexible displays at MWC, including Samsung, Lenovo and Huawei, but the samples were kept tantalisingly locked away in glass display cabinets. However, their adoption into mainstream consumer products could be 12 – 18 months away.
Anders is already engaged with a partner for these types of displays and are witnessing some very exciting technology. If you can imagine the old Polaroid film that goes into the back of the camera, we can now deploy displays with that kind of film-based property. Very thin, very flexible, but offering comparable visual performance to a TFT. From a deployment perspective, this is technology that I can see being mainstream for 2025 and beyond.
In automotive, the flexible display will be the big movement from 2022 onwards, although it won’t reach our road cars until around 2027. These will be displays that will be able to replace the whole console. The user will be able to optimise areas for touch like heating, audio, sat nav controls, but the console is all one film. If you think of the whole walnut or plastic dash becoming a film-based display, this is where automotive will go, specifically as there is going to be more and more cameras in cars as we move towards driverless cars or electric vehicles. Cameras will be deployed instead of wing mirrors because the mirrors increase drag resistance and therefore increase fuel consumption. If you want to optimise an electric car you want to make it aerodynamic to use less fuel, so the design needs to be as slick as possible.
The world of 3D touch
The industry is buzzing about 3D Touch, but the technology isn’t filtering through to deployment within display yet. I think it’s likely to evolve more towards enhancing the overall product feature set rather than being linked closely with the display.
The biggest challenge is integrating the touch technology on-cell or in-cell - into the display stack itself – thereby removing the need for a separate touch sensor. It could be on top or embedded into the pixel. I think this is inevitably where touch is going although, despite its many merits it may not become mainstream.
Interestingly, one of the key applications that I’ve seen for 3D Touch is a non-display based application for controlling power tools such as an electric drill. it replaces the mechanical power-on and power-off button with a sensor that the user can squeeze to adjust the speed. This is such an elegant application that I think 3D Touch is less display oriented and extremely well suited to replacing mechanical switches.
And so, there you have it – tomorrow, today, from the people behind the screen. Perhaps in a year or two you’ll be reading about more visions from Paul Mullen, only next time, you’ll be reading his words on a flexible display screen within your car. How cool would that be?!