The first FPDs (Flat Panel Displays) appeared in 1990s as a replacement of CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) in computer monitors and gained special popularity in laptop computers. LCDs (Liquid Crystal Displays, for more details see TFT LCD) now have 90 percent of the display market, OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) is emerging, and PDPs (Plasma Display Panels) hold about a 9 percent share.

The strategic direction of both LCDs and OLEDs is to improve sunlight visibility. In the forefront of that there are the following technologies:
–  FFS (Fringe Field Switching)
see in all detail in Hydis: its FFS succeeding IPS [core information page of this same ‘Experiencing the cloud’ blog, May 11, 2011 – Oct 12, 2012]
IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide)
see in all detail in Sharp: IGZO is coming [core information page of this same ‘Experiencing the cloud’ blog, Jan 20, 2013]
AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode)
see in all detail in AMOLED [core information page of this same ‘Experiencing the cloud’ blog, Feb 4, 2013]

Please click on the above core information page links,
or select them via the menu bar.

See also:
AH-IPS technology from LG Display and True HD IPS of LG Mobile LTE superphones: Nitro HD (AT&T) and Spectrum (Verizon)  [‘Experiencing the cloud’, Jan 19, 2012],
Plane to Line Switching (PLS) screen technology (Samsung) [‘Experiencing the cloud’, Oct 2, 2011] which is essentially the same as the well established IPS [Wikipedia] technology.

More information:
Displays: Present and Future [M&E Tech, Dec 10, 2012]
IEDM 2012: State of the Art and Future Prospective in Display Technology, Seonki Kim, Samsung Display Corporation Vice President:
– the evolution of the display
– next-generation display: transparent display and thin, lightweight flexible display
(at CES 2011: Seonki Kim, Master of R&D at Samsung Electronics LCD Business)

To conlude all that with a complete picture there are also reflective displays which use ambient light to enable a display image to be seen.

They do not require a backlight and thus their power requirements are quite low. EPDs (ElectroPhoretic Displays) are the most popular type of reflective displays. They are also commonly known as “e-paper” (electronic paper) or even “e-ink”. This market is dominated by E Ink Holdings, a Taiwanese company with significant technology assets in the US and South Korea as well. See:
E Ink strategic value proposition: displays on every smart surface [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Feb 20 – Sept 21, 2012]
E Ink and Epson achieve world-leading ePaper resolution [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, May 23, 2011]
E Ink Holdings EPD prospects are good [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, April 30, 2011 – Jan 9, 2012]
Hanvon – E-Ink strategic e-reader alliance for price/volume leadership supplementing Hanvon’s premium strategy mostly based on an alliance with Microsoft and Intel [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Dec 21, 2010]
Undermining E-Ink and single-purpose E-readers [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Aug 23, 2010 – Jan 10, 2011]

Other electronic paper solutions are based on EWDs (Electro-Wetting Displays) and a variation of that, the Electrofluidic displays, but these are almost nonexistent on the market.

Then there is an advanced hybrid LCD & reflective display solution from the (only) fabless LCD company Pixel Qi about which is currently preparing for a large scale manufacturing by exploiting the currently available niche markets (displays military personnel, truck drivers etc.) requiring the best outdoor readability in sunlight. More information about that (in addition to the very final section on this page):
Pixel Qi finding ruggedized devices are the 2012 opportunity [this same ‘Experiencing the cloud’ blog, Jan 16, 2012] with Pixel Qi Shifting their Business Strategy away from Consumer Electronics [Good e-Reader, Jan 12, 2012]
Pixel Qi’s second investment round concluded by the 3M investment [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Sept 19, 2011]
Shrinking capital investment in the worldwide LCD industry [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Jan 2, 2012 – Feb 21, 2012]
Marvell® ARMADA® PXA168 based XO laptops and tablets from OLPC with $185 and target $100 list prices respectively [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Jan 8, 2012]
Pixel Qi’s first big name device manufacturing partner is the extremely ambitious ZTE [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Feb 15, 2011, latest update: June 3, 2011]
Pixel Qi and CPT alliance for sunlight readability [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Dec 22, 2010, latest update: June 2, 2011]
Marvell ARMADA with sun readable and unbreakable Pixel Qi screen, and target [mass] manufacturing cost of $75 [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Nov 4, 2010, latest update: July 20, 2011]

There are also IMODs (Interferometric Modulator Displays) among the reflective displays which are working on a quite different principle and therefore are much better in color reflections than the e-papers mentioned above.

These were mostly developed and heavily promoted by the #1 SoC company, Qualcomm under the mirasol trademark. They even acquired (together with the developer Pixtronix) a similar in a certain aspect (the so called MEMSMicroElectroMechanical System) complementary solution called PerfectLight in December 2011, in which the same MEMS approach is used in a non-reflective OLED-like way. The intention was to start manufacturing that on the same high-volume plant as the one which was under construction for mirasol. However large scale commercialization for both was stopped in 2012 due to insufficient color quality achieved with the present state of mirasol technology as well as high capital requirements to achieve economy of scale. Qualcomm plans for the future of both the Pixtronix MEMS and mirasol were declared in the last Q1 FY2013 earnings call as:

And with respect to our display business, we recently announced an expansion of our display arrangement with Sharp in order to accelerate the commercialization of our Pixtronix MEMS displays utilizing Sharp’s IGZO technology with the goal of driving high performance, lower-power displays from a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets.

Our Pixtronix technology uses the MEMS-based shutter system to deliver color performance similar to OLED with wide angle view ability and lower power consumption than LCD or OLED. As we previously indicated, we are increasing our focus on licensing our display technologies, including our next generation Mirasol display technology while at the same time directly commercializing certain current generation Mirasol displays.

See also: Q&A: Qualcomm’s Display Ambitions [The Wall Street Journal, 10, Dec, 2012]

More information on Qualcomm’s display business:
Qualcomm added a superior to its mirasol, but also MEMS display technology for its upcoming US$1B fab–UPDATE: Plans on Hold–UPDATE2: Sharp is involved [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Jan 26 – Dec 10, 2012]
Qualcomm mirasol display technology delivered [this same ‘Experiencing the Cloud’ blog, Nov 22, 2011 – July 18, 2012]

Finally there are other Next generation of display technologies
described in Wikipedia.

We should finish all this information page with the observation that there are significant strategic problems in the display industry. See GDL Presents: Women Techmakers with [Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of] Pixel Qi [GoogleDevelopers YouTube channel, streamed live on Nov 6, 2012] video for which I also provided all the relevant excerpts in transcript form for this page:

Jean Wang sits down with 2011 Anita Borg “Woman of Vision” Award for Innovation winner Mary Lou Jepsen of Pixel Qi to discuss overcoming technical challenges in hardware, drawing on Mary Lou’s experience leading the engineering and architectural design of the $100 laptops that inspired the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization. Hosts: Jean Wang – Lead Hardware Engineer for Project Glass | Vivian Cromwell – Manager, Global Chrome Developer Relations Guest: Mary Lou Jepsen – CEO and Founder, Pixel Qi

[3:41] about the current state of the hardware industry in terms of display and where you see this going:
trauma is a nice way to put it, I mean that right now there is not a sigle profitable display manufacturer in the world
– they are running at 20% negative margin for a number of years which is hard to maintain
– it’s actually geopolitical, China has built up enough, more manufacturing capacity, so there is excess capacity
in the device space Apple and Samsung have executed very, very well, … everybody else … are running at nearly, just about break even, and a lot of R&D had been slashed
– there is just very few innovative programs — you [i.e.] Google are doing one of the most innovative hardware programs on the planet, yourself — there is just very little of that today
– … we need more diversíty than just Apple [and Samsung], and we are searching for that

[5:20] How is Pixel Qi, and how are you doing your part to try to make the display industry profitable?

The One Laptop Per Child was not just about the cost but also about power [consumption]. … This is [showing the OLPC device] a 1 watt laptop. The next laptop up is about 10 watts. … What we are doing is continuing that march down in a world where, since I made this, the power consumption of screens has quadrupled in the last three to four years. This is in a world where Intel will respin a chip to save 10 milliwats, Qualcomm will fight about microwatts, and the screen power consumption has gone up like 5 watts. … If you look at like iPad 3, Apple’s sort of, one their flagship products, it’s a 9 watt machine, 8 watts of that is taken by the screen. So what we’ve figured out how to do is how to basically take 7 watts out of that. Not 7 milliwatts, not 7 microwatts, 7 watts, while maintaining the front-of-screen performance, including the resolution and so forth, viewing angle, color saturation, contrast, and all of that. So that’s our next generation architecture.

But we’ve done that by building up starting with this screen in here [showing again the OLPC device] that’s sunlight readable and really working on, basically what I call small aperture pixels. As you increase the screen resolution, if the transistor stays the same size, it takes up more and more of the pixel area. That means the light from the backlight gets blocked and can’t get through, and so you’ve got to crank up that backlight and you’ve got to power all those extra pixels.

Power is a huge deal. Maybe it’s not even power, it’s thermal management. It’s what do you do with the heat. You can use the best batteries you want, but even still the iPad 3 is overheating. There’s the thermal budget.

And so, if the pixels are getting smaller and the transistors stay the same size and you crank it up, all that power goes to the screen rather than a zippier processor, multitasking, being able to beam video around, being able to beam video to the Google Glass, whatever. You can use power for a lot of different things if the screen isn’t hogging that. So we’re working on that problem. And what we’ve done over the last eight years is [to] increase the front-of-screen performance.


So now we can match that of OLED, or any of the Android screens, or Motorola. I don’t mean to just pick on Apple, but at a competitive screen performance, including the contrast, color, viewing angle, resolution and so forth. So that’s what we’ve been doing.



[21:56] But there’s certainly places where we’re not really able to compete with Apple or Samsung. If they only spent 10 times what we did, we could. But they spend 1,000 times what we do. They spend billions and we spend millions. So we actually have a nice niche in our company. We serve 130 million people that can’t buy normal products from Apple, Samsung or other vendors because they work outside. Construction workers, military, cops, meter maids, truck drivers, they all need stuff. So we have stuff like this. It’ kind of a brick. But you can throw it on the ground and it works or whatever, spill on it. And it’s fine.


… [24:03] It’s difficult in an industry that is struggling like it is now. So we persevere and we’re pretty happy about having this large niche. We go profitable on this niche. But our big ambition is to make innovative screens.

In the year 2000 maybe, let’s call it 10 million laptops shipped that year. There were tablets that shipped. Apple didn’t invent the tablet. But it’s much smaller numbers. And so the volume that you needed to achieve on a new product was relatively small. Fast forward to today where you’ve got 250 million, 300 laptops, same amount of desktops, 1 billion cell-phones. When you start mass production, you have to be able to go to a million units a month. That means you have to use existing factory infrastructure or build your own factory, which costs a couple-billion dollars. If you spend a couple billion dollars to build a factory, you’ve got to amortize that over the output for whatever, five years. That’s what Qualcomm did. They were basically wrapping a $100 to $500 bill around every product they shipped as a gift to the customer.

And so what we noticed is that it’s a moment, it seems to be, in the display industry where it’s a lot like 25 years ago in silicon where there were all these different types of silicon processes. There was CMOS, which won, silicon on sapphire, gallium arsenide. And CMOS got good enough, it wasn’t the best, but it got good enough and the processes reliable enough where more of those factories were made. And people could basically design a chip in software and send the file to the manufacturer, and back came the chip. So we think it’s that moment in the display industry. We’re the only fabless LCD company in the world. We’re the only external team that’s ever gotten the so called “tape-out” – that’s how old the nomenclature is, back when you had computer tapes – that has gotten to tape out into the big factories of the world.

Not even Apple gets that and they get everything, for good reason mind you. But we’ve been doing that and basically using as-is the factory process, windows, processes, the materials that are allowed in the fab, and re-architecting every single layer, the liquid crystal, how we drive it, how we create structures. Because basically we’re playing with layers of metal and oxide. Oxide, another word for that’s glass, right? And metal is a conductor and oxide is an isolator, but metal is also a reflector. And oxide is, well, glasses are made out, there’s lenses, right? of shapes that can be both a transistor shape or a line shape, and have good electron mobility, while playing a double role to bounce the light where you want the light to go and in the way that you want it to go. And it’s pretty fun.

It’s a very analog process. We work a lot on like a small pixel, a 100 micron square pixel. Then we make millions of them. We copy it when we nail that pixel. And that’s really what we are trying to do in a world where 97% of all screens are liquid crystal displays using thin film transistors. [27:30]


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