After Three Decades, OLED Technology Continues to Evolve

By Sri Peruvemba, CEO at Marketer International and C3Nano Marketing Advisor

Many of us tend to think of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) as “new” technology, compared to LEDs, liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), and other display solutions. The fact is that more than 30 years have passed since the emergence of the first working OLED.

In 1987, while working at Eastman Kodak, Ching Tang and Steven Van Slyke documented their pioneering work in the world’s first OLED paper, “Organic Electroluminescent Diodes“. It described how their creation of the first practical OLED used a very thin multilayer structure (still employed in state-of-art OLEDs) that significantly decreased drive voltage and enabled high luminance. Since that historic day in 1987, OLED technology has been brought into the spotlight for its ability to enable high-performance image quality, thanks to its inherent extremely high contrast.

The accompanying infographic below provides a dateline highlighting 30 key moments in the evolution of OLEDs. As you can see, many leading organizations, including academia and major companies, have contributed to the advancement of OLED technology. In 1996, TDK Inc. was the first company to demonstrate an active-matrix OLED (AMOLED), and AMOLED is becoming a highly viable incarnation of the technology. Samsung and LG have been mass-producing OLEDs for mobile phones and TV applications; companies such as Visionox have been shipping passive-matrix OLEDs into wearable devices; and dozens of companies have begun making serious billion-dollar investments in OLED technology.

Market research firm IDTechEx has predicted that by 2020, the market for plastic and flexible AMOLED displays will approach $18 billion. Applications that will be integrating AMOLED in the future include clothing with embedded displays, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) devices, helmets, wristbands, jewelry/watches, and gaming devices. Beyond displays, OLEDs are emerging as a technology to replace conventional lighting because they are efficient, they naturally provide diffuse lighting, and they can dynamically change colors to suit the needs of the environment.

Another market that will tap into about $1 billion of overall AMOLED volume is the automotive space. Many carmakers are designing larger displays into vehicles to help support safety, internal vehicle, and infotainment systems. Some approaches include curved displays, for which AMOLEDs are ideally suited, to provide the driver with a better, less distracting viewing angle while monitoring the various functions, and displays that shift mapping and navigation from center-stack to instrument cluster (the display right in front of the driver, where the speedometer typically resides). As autonomous vehicles become available for consumer purchase, display needs will change, shifting from the current instrument cluster to the rear, where the passenger can access information and be entertained. OLED displays are also likely to play a big role during this transition.

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