Why is a smartphone like a hummingbird? Neither can go more than a few hours without refueling, or bad things happen. (If you answered that smartphone owners are often forced to flutter around looking for a power outlet, I’ll accept that, too.)
Do you know where the power goes? As the graphic shows, around half your battery is spent on the display alone. And of that, the vast majority is used simply to power the backlight that all LCDs need. (The situation for AMOLED displays is similar, but for different reasons. That’s a subject for a future blog.)
Clearly, improving the power efficiency of the display is a powerful way to improve battery life. Turning the brightness down isn’t a helpful strategy. Indeed, we expect displays to be brighter and richer all the time, but not at the expense of already limited battery life. (Bigger batteries would also work, but the market has spoken on that one. Slim is in!)
How is this to be accomplished? Find out after the jump.
In recent years we have seen flat screen TVs growing bigger and bigger and their capabilities continuously improved. Full high definition (HD) screen resolutions of (1920x1080 pixels) are now standard with many panel makers showcasing or announcing larger ultra-definition resolution screens. At the same time refresh rates are increasing, providing a better appearance of moving images and 3D TV.
Consumers today can choose from a large variety of huge screens providing extremely crisp and detailed images at very high refresh rates. Most recently, large OLED TVs have started to reach the market. However, fabricating these high-performance displays represent a big challenge to the panel makers since they need to figure out a way to drive all these pixels integrated on very large areas with sufficient speed and low power consumption.
[Updated February 13, 3013 because metal oxide backplane technology has improved since the original post was published. See question 7.]
There has been a huge amount of interest and discussion around new LCDbackplane technologies, particularly about metal oxide. Following on from my first post on the subject last week, I thought it might be useful to answers some of the questions I’ve been hearing most often.
1. Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) has been the dominant transistor backplane technology for displays the last 20 years. Why are new technologies necessary?
Changes are being driven primarily by the demand for higher resolution and faster refresh rates. The most important transistor parameter is electron mobility. Electron mobility of a-Si is very low (around 1cm2/Vs) and is at the edge of the physical ability to support high refresh rates such as 240Hz for high definition television. (Just in case you need a reminder, as this graphic shows, each transistor is basically an on/off switch that controls each red/green/blue subpixel and 240Hz refers to 240 switches per second.)
The display industry is in the middle of one of the most significant technical transitions of the last 20 years and it is also mostly invisible to the average consumer. It has all to do with the advances taking place in transistors – the electronic switches that control the display’s picture, providing clarity and crisp imagery.
Every pixel on your LCD screen is turned on or off by a transistor. The complete array of pixel transistors is known as a backplane, as you can see in the graphic. Clearly, the performance of the backplane directly affects the quality of the display for your TV, smartphones and tablet PCs. How fast the switch can be turned on and off refers to the refresh rate and the total number of pixels on the screen equals picture resolution.
Today, there are three backplane technologies, which we call amorphoussilicon (a-si), low temperature poly-silicon (LTPS) and metal oxide (MO). If you are buying a TV, should you care what transistor technology is in it?
If you've ever wondered where TV screens are born, then look no further - the answer is Applied Materials! The January issue of Wired UK magazine showcases Applied’s display technology and how it makes a flat panel LCD display. The issue is also available in Wired UK’s iPad edition, which can be found on Apple’s Newsstand store and features a video tour of Applied’s factory in Taiwan (also shown above).
Just this year, we have seen a virtual explosion of touch panel growth fueled by the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for touch-enabled devices. It is hard to say whether this growth will be tempered or continue amidst the promise of even greater adoption of mobility devices and invention of new “must have” products. In either case, touch technology is now a permanent member of the flat panel display family.
I marvel at how the industry has evolved over the past few years. Three years ago, I had the opportunity to take a position as Head of our Web Products Group in Germany (the group that makes our roll-to-roll vacuum deposition tools). At that time we strengthened our focus on Flexible Electronics, looking at opportunities in flexible solar, displays, printed circuit boards and several different transparent conductor-based applications including touch screen elements. Ironically, the team had already been addressing this market for years, with sales of roll-to-roll sputtering tools for indium tin oxide (ITO) since the early 1980s, but it had remained relatively small and stable due to modest annual growth in resistive touch technology.
Dow Jones recently reported on the future of tablet and smartphone displays. As the leading equipment supplier to the display industry, Applied Materials was called on to lend comment to the trends and technologies that will be driving the industry in the coming years.
The 2002 hit movie, Minority Report is the ultimate precursor for the use of touch panel displays today. As you may remember, Tom Cruise’s character is being blamed for a pre-crime that he has not yet committed and manages to stay one step ahead of the police using a multitude of touch panel displays as a control center dashboard with information at the touch of a finger.
Today’s reality is not so far removed from this promise of touchscreen technology. Smart phones and tablet PCs are the most prolific applications for touch panel today. A touch interface allows one to interact directly with a display without the use of a keyboard or mouse and is an enabling technology for the mobile display market which will have sales of around 60 million tablets and 500 million smartphones out of a total of close to 1.7 billion mobile phones in 2011 according to published reports. Almost all tablets and smartphones have touch displays, and touch panel penetration in conventional mobile phones will surpass 50% by 2014.
Tom Edman, vice president and general manager of Applied Materials' Display Business Group, discusses the enormous growth in demand for mobile computing devices and the quantum leap in mobility made possible by touch panel technology as well as the company's latest manufacturing technology - the Applied AKT Aristo Twin.
It is likely you did not hear about the latest exploits of Charlie Sheen or the recent natural disasters from the evening news on television or from the newspaper. You probably did not buy Lady Gaga’s latest CD at a record store. It is more likely that you are participating in a new wave of information sharing – social networking and media downloading – these are driving demand for mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet PC’s . We refer to this latest shift as the “fourth wave” of demand expansion in the thin film transistor liquid crystal displays (TFT-LCD) industry.
The history of the cyclical expansion of the TFT-LCD display industry centers on the introduction of popular new display applications that were enabled by ever larger sheets of glass. The first wave being the laptop PC in the mid-1990’s; the desktop monitor in early 2000 and large area TFT-LCD TV’s in the mid-2000’s.
The fourth wave is driven by nothing less than the complete transformation of how we buy music; how we read books; how we get the news; how we watch video, television, movies; and how we socially interact with each other.
Applied Materials moved up a spot and ranked third behind Intel and Texas Instruments in the ‘semiconductor’ industry on the Most Admired companies list and received an overall score of 6.78. Applied Materials has been on FORTUNE's Most Admired companies list since 1998. The full list is available on FORTUNE’s web site.
Per FORTUNE's web site, companies are rated by executives, directors, and analysts in their own industry on nine criteria, from innovation and global competitiveness to social responsibility.