Author Archives: Tony Sun

Differentiating Consumer Smart Glass Hype From Enterprise Smart Glass Potential… Google Leads in One of These Categories

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Smart glasses launched to much fanfare but commensurate disappointment with Google’s initial consumer-focused product line, but, like many such initial products with glitches, the seeds were sown for other developers and end-users to connect and innovate. Enter the enterprises looking for new tools that can improve productivity, a domain in which smart glasses have received significant buzz recently. The devices’ unique form factors and hands-free controls attracted interest from many different industries, ranging from automotive and construction to medical and retail. This end-user interest together with the entrance of a plethora of device developers has created a major battlefield for smart glasses with numerous pilot projects being pursued. The question is, what glasses are the best fit for what enterprise use cases?

By analyzing more than 70 enterprise use cases, we found that these pilot programs can all be boiled down to three core functions. Those for accessing information enable users to pull information like checklists, product info, and notifications from various sources and view it in the head-mounted display (HMD). Sometimes, the visualized information is overlaid on top of the real object to achieve augmented reality (AR). In real-time communication use cases, smart glasses are used to stream live video from point of view and enable discussions with managers, remote experts, or customers. Finally, in documentation applications, smart glasses are used to take pictures and record audio and video clips, and then saved to local or remote storage, where no immediate feedback is needed.

Given the diversity of enterprise use cases and the diversity of technical capabilities in various smart glass devices, it’s not surprising that not all are a good fit to all cases. Continue reading

Picking the Win, Place and Show in the Emerging Display Technologies Horserace

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Electronic consumer device innovation has typically run hand in hand with innovation in the displays they carry. A case in point is the emergence of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) from early adoption in laptops to become the leading display technology in almost all of today’s applications. However, a new generation of devices – namely wearable and flexible devices – has highlighted LCDs’ limitations in visual performance, power consumption, and rigidity, thereby enabling market opportunities for a new generation of display technologies and a proliferation of form factors and use cases. Three technologies stand out as the battle for market dominance ensues: organic light-emitting diode (OLEDs), reflective displays, and the quantum dot (QD) backlight enhancement technology. As a group, these will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24% to $21 billion in 2020, up from today’s $7.3 billion. However, not all of these technologies will find the same success.

OLEDs will grow into a $15 billion market in 2020, up from $6.2 billion in 2015, corresponding to a CAGR of 19%. Smartphones are the leading market due to superior visual performance and form factors. However, OLED’s wider adoption is limited by issues like differential aging and high cost in large formats, which limits the large addressable market of TVs only reaching $480 million in 2020. QD LCDs represent the highest CAGR among emerging displays at 60%, although from the lowest base of the three technologies of $510 million in 2015. This will balloon to $5.3 billion in 2020, corresponding to an opportunity of $500 million for QD enhancement components. TVs will drive the QD LCD, comprising 96% of the total. Finally, reflective displays will grow to $590 million in 2020, only $30 million more than today’s $560 million. An anticipated 40% decline in the e-reader market is a hole to fill, but emerging applications like signage, electronic shelf labels, and wearables will indeed fill that gap with a little left over. Electrophoretic displays (EPDs) dominate the current reflective display market, but alternative reflective technologies – namely cholesteric LCDs (Ch-LCDs) and memory LCDs – will find opportunities from signage and wearables respectively. And for those looking for growth in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and electrowetting (EW) displays; well, there’s still a lot of technical improvement required to be market-ready by 2020..

What is clear is that there won’t be a single display dominating all applications. While OLEDs, QD LCDs, and reflective displays can compete with LCDs and garner significant market share, the overall display industry will fragment in the coming years, with different technologies gaining favor in different segments. Because different display technologies have very different architectures, to maximize revenue and keep on track with display advancement, chemical and material developers need to diversify their product portfolio to fit individual technologies’ needs. Display developers also need to broaden their scope as today’s displays incorporate more functions, including sensors and haptics, to become the central piece for communication between human and electronics devices. To keep pace, display developers need to proactively take expandability and integration with new input/output technologies into consideration for future success. Of course, disruption and opportunity won’t stop with the tactile user interfaces. The way people perceive or process images is on the technology roadmap, with augmented reality headsets in the near-term solution, and futuristic eye-hacking by neuroscience technologies emerging from the cutting edge, forcing developers to think about displays differently.

Whatever part of the display value chain you care about, change is most certainly coming, moving existing markets and creating entirely new ones.

Why Apple and Samsung Won’t Dominate Wearables the Same Way They Did Mobile

While the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S smartwatches may function and even appear similar, these are just first attempts at the wearables market. To understand their future strategic direction, we’ve examined the wearable patents of Apple and Samsung since 2010 and analyzed their overall portfolios in three major taxonomy families: applications, form factors, and components (client registration required). Apple and Samsung’s patents cover nearly identical form factors and components, but they diverge when it comes to applications. Samsung is more health-focused, while Apple is focused more on consumer communication. As illustrated in Figure 1, 28% of Samsung’s and 10% of Apple’s patents are for medical devices or health monitoring, while 10% of Samsung’s and 43% of Apple’s patents are relevant to consumer communication like entertainment, gaming, and notification.

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Samsung and Apple have dominated the smartphone market for years; however, in the wearable space, the two companies will fight on different battlegrounds. The smartphone competition between Samsung and Apple has been especially intense as the two battle for top market share. However, wearables are shaping up to be a very different competitive landscape, as the two giants focus on different applications. Samsung, with 12% of the whole wearable medical device patent pool (see Figure 2), will find itself primarily competing in wearable health monitoring devices with other innovative medical wearable companies like Zoll Medical and Asante, or wearable component companies like Qualcomm that are still determining how much of the device they should develop themselves. On the other hand, by focusing on consumer communication, Apple will compete with the usual host of competitors from the mobile space: Nokia, Sony, Microsoft, Motorola, and LG are all among the top 10 IP holders for wearable devices designed for consumer communication, not to mention that Qualcomm has actually filed the most consumer communication device patents (see Figure 2).

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The roots for this apparent divergence between Samsung and Apple can at least partially be found in the origins of these two companies. While Apple has stayed true to its consumer electronics roots from inception, Samsung has grown from a trading company into a global conglomerate with business units as diverse as health care, financial services, and heavy industries. Therefore, expect wearables to inherently be a more fragmented market than other consumer electronics. Clients should be prepared to develop a broader range of products and channels to market, and perhaps a more diversified technology portfolio, as well.

NXP’s Temperature Label Highlights the Gap Between Batteries and Displays in Smart Labels

NXP semiconductors (client registration required) recently demonstrated a sensor label for temperature logging using its ICs, targeting the cold chain of biopharmaceutical products, such as vaccines, hormones, and blood. The label is fabricated on a flexible PET foil, containing NXP’s IC (temperature sensors plus interfaces), Enfucell’s (client registration required) printed battery, and a printed NFC antenna by Quad Industries. This move has brought NXP into competition with other temperature sensor label developers, such as Thinfilm Electronics (client registration required), which has been developing similar products since 2012. In Thinfilm’s case, besides pharmaceutical and medicine industries, the labels also target food and liquor applications. The component comparison can be found in the table below.

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The major difference between NXP’s demonstrator and Thinfilm’s label is in data communication, as NXP uses NFC for data read-out, while Thinfilm offers electrochromic displays or NFC. However, driving a printed display with the 1.5 V thin-film batteries that NXP and Thinfilm use is not a trivial matter, as reflective displays like electrochromics, electrophoretics, or cholesteric LCD require higher voltages – at least 2.2 V, 2.3 V, or 3.6 V respectively (see the report “Cutting Up the LCD Pie: Calculating the Billion-Dollar Slices from Display Innovation” — client registration required). Unless developers can use 3 V lithium-ion batteries, which are not disposable, they need to link multiple batteries together, adding significant cost to the already most expensive component of a smart label.

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Since there are no thin-film batteries on the horizon which offer disposability and high voltage, developers of smart labels in packaging will have a difficult time driving displays in a cost effective manner (see report “Powering Mobility in the Internet of Things: Strategies for Thin-Film and Flexible Battery Success” — client registration required). As a result, expect most smart labels to forego the display and use NFC, requiring secondary readers and limiting smart labels in consumer-facing applications.

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