The Fourth Screen

The Fourth Screen

I’m sure most of you are aware of the tremendous success of the Apple iPad, which was released in April of this year. There were great expectations and hype leading up to its release, and reported sales so far have more than met the expectations, with more than 10M units expected to be sold this year, and multiple “Tablet PC” products expected to be released by other makers late this year and early 2011.

Actually the iPad success is part of a larger trend in display products that has been developing over the past few years, which I call the “Fourth Screen.” If you think about past waves of digital display products; mobile phones, PC related devices (like laptops and PC monitors), and TVs, these each serve a different need of consumers, but each has certain limitations. Mobile phones, provide affordable communication but the screen is too small for most productive work and for an immersive entertainment experience. TVs provide the perfect immersive experience, but must be viewed in one location. PCs are great tools for productivity and internet browsing and laptops are mobile, but traditional laptops are too expensive and too heavy for some casual users, who mostly want email, social networking, web browsing, and content viewing. The battery life for these is typically too short due to the power-hungry high-performance processors and LCD displays.

Thus, there is a need for a “Fourth Screen,” which is a relatively inexpensive mobile device that enables browsing and an immersive display experience. Products targeted to this market have been introduced prior to the iPad, including the Kindle and other eReaders as well as mini notebooks or Netbooks. Most eReaders have reflective screens, good for battery life and outdoor reading, but without color or video. Netbooks usually have a high-performance screen, but the form factor can seem clunky, with the traditional keyboard taking up too much real estate. The iPad has gotten around most of the problems with eReaders and netbooks, although the price, at $500+, clearly defines the high-end price range for fourth screen products.

Although there are many possible technologies and form factors for these devices, almost any conceivable display technology used in a fourth screen application will include a thin film transistor [TFT ] backplane made with Applied Materials’ Display deposition and test equipment. Also, this product category is shifting to touch panels which rely heavily on Applied’s flat panel and roll-to-roll equipment.

The fourth screen trend is happening now and demand for these devices is projected to grow from the 10s of millions this year into the 100s of millions over the next several years. All of us at Applied Materials should be excited about this trend both for the additional opportunity it provides to our company, as well as benefit it brings us as consumers, filling a need perhaps we did not even know we had.

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