Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Smart Watch Formats

In the Sep 20, 2009 edition of “Touch Panel,” in an article that I published titled, “The case for a flexible touch panel keyboard” I made this statement regarding mobile devices at that time, “This limitation in screen information content has produced a number of “unbalanced” designs where the computing power of the device addresses too few pixels to adequately support the intended functions of the device.” Of course that statement was shortly followed, in June of 2010, with Apple’s retina display where they effectively pushed pixel density to the limit. It has subsequently been followed by numerous large phone designs where screen sizes have grown from 3.5” to well over 5” with the actual screen now constituting almost the entire front of the device rather than 70%. And makers continue to add to the pixel density even though the retina display theoretically started already at the resolution limit of the human eye. Full HD resolution is now available giving 2 megapixels, about 13.5 times the number of pixels as the Apple 3G. Given this journey of the past few years, mobile device makers may be planning to start over, not with low resolution displays but with smaller displays in a watch format with the consequent reduction in pixel count proportional to the reduction in screen area.

Some time ago one of my cousins described a technique for flight simulator displays where the direction the pilot was looking was monitored. The center of his field of view was generated in high resolution while things in the pilot’s peripheral were generated in much lower resolution. An observer watching the pilot in the simulator could clearly see the high and low resolution areas of the screen. However, to the pilot, it appeared that the entire screen was in high resolution. This technique was adopted to maximize the use of limited computing power in rendering an image for the pilot. Although a smart watch may not have the same computing power limitations, it would seem that the screen area limitations could be addressed by a similar technique.

The current generation of motion sensors is very small and very precise. They could be used to create virtual screen area to compensate for very small screens. This is standard in “near to eye” applications but could also be useful on a wrist mounted device. But there is no real substitute for just using a larger display. The first wrist watches were pocket watches with a wrist band. They kept pretty-much the same size although they were eventually engineered to be much thinner. Given their single function, there was never much of a point to making them bigger. That is not the case with a smart watch. A large cylindrical display with the virtual screen area enhancement would have interesting 3D effects as well.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Flat is Out?

Samsung has announced a new curved OLED TV. This follows the LG curved OLED. After 40 years of development to get a flat TV screen, after years more development to get that flat screen ever thinner, is the industry now headed the other way? Not Quite.

The industry has several problems that it is dealing with simultaneously that makes curved screen OLED TV an enticing idea. First and foremost, in conjunction with recent depressed economic times, the fiz has gone out of the TV market. The industry has attempted to rectify this by pushing a number of features, in many cases pushing performance of the features well beyond what most human beings can see. Though specs do sell TV sets and they certainly are a means to premium pricing, specs that can easily be seen and be demonstrated by retail floor personnel have a much better chance at growing the market. One of the big advantages of HDTV was that it was a demarcation between the old and the new. The difference between an HDTV set and an older NTSC set could be seen, even when the set was off. A curved screen recreates this.

A second issue that the industry is dealing with is the growth of "over the top" (OTT)viewing of TV and video content on mobile devices. Very high resolution small screens with very high quality sound compete for consumer attention and the consumer dollar. Though video viewing on notebook computers has been around for a while, OTT is now offering a much more immersive experience. Unlike 3D, driven by the film makers and mostly used to push the content out, the curved screen draws you in. It creates an experience that is much harder to replicate in a mobile device.

A third issue is that the industry would really like to commercialize OLED. LCDs are great but they need multi-billion dollar fabs. Long term, OLEDs could have some cost advantage but they will never get to the long term until they start generating returns to scale, getting prices down by getting volume up. Competing with LCDs by doing things such as being a little bit better on some aspects probably won't do. It is not saving Plasma. So, the best way to grow OLED use is to make a product that can not be made with an LCD. That is how LCD did it. Absent the notebook computer and the volumes it generated, which can not be made with a CRT, we would still have CRT TV. Though there is an alternate pathway for OLED doing mobile devices, any large size TV volume certainly does not hurt.

Absent new form factors that actually require a flexible display (Scroll down to "Red Planet"), curved displays will be OLED's forte.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Exhaustive Research

I have two teenage daughters (actually not, one is 12, one is 20) that find it hard to agree on anything. However, they did both agree on their absolute need for iPhones. They have both had their iPhones for 2-3 years and both now want to update their phones... both to Samsung Galaxies. I can't say if this is just an eb and flow of what happens to be hot at any particular time, if Apple is losing some of its mojo, or this is just some random defection by two previously dedicated Apple device owners. Taken together with recent press, it does seem that the smart phone market is much more up for grabs than it was.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Flat World

Around the time of the New Millennium, the microwave mapping of the universe was begun and it was almost immediately determined that the universe is flat. Amazingly, it was once thought that the earth was flat and the sky was round, sitting like an inverted bowl over the earth. Now the earth is round and the sky is flat. We live in a flat universe. I recently published a blog article about a flat panel camera. Shortly thereafter Technology Review published an article on the same subject. Now Apple has patented a flat panel fingerprint sensor. As I noted before, as each component reaches its norm areal and performance limit, man components such as cameras, speakers, and now biometrics will be improved by making larger but flat versions. When the screen becomes flexible, these components will need to be flexible as well.