Ordinary smartphones are a thing of the past. What will revolutionary technology change?

Sony Xperia 1 II 4K HDR OLED Smartphone

The first OLED smartphone

The history of the development of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays dates back to the 50s of the last century. We will not delve into all stages of the development of OLED-like screens and find out which phone was the first to receive an OLED matrix. Different sources assign primacy to different gadgets.

For example, the iXBT forum says that the first device with an OLED screen was Samsung X120 in 2004 (Similar data in Wikipedia). But in the same place, the comments say that in Japan this is not an innovation, and this turned out to be true – back in 2001 at the World PC Expo, the SANYO brand showed the first prototype with OLED.

The first Android smartphone and at the same time the main competitor of the iPhone 4 was the Samsung Galaxy S. It was introduced in 2010, and by that standards, the flagship got an impressive 4-inch AMOLED matrix (a subspecies of OLED) with a resolution of 480 × 800 pixels. To be clear, the current standard in devices is Full HD+ resolution (2400×1080 pixels), and a 4K OLED screen was first used on the Sony Xperia 1 in 2019.

The near future belongs to OLED

Considering all the shortcomings of the first OLED screens, Samsung made great efforts to develop the technology. The company was not afraid of the initial problems with AMOLED: increased fragility, fast pixel burnout, low brightness, high ripple factor (PWM). Samsung knew that development had much more prospects. Today, in 2022, we can confidently say: the South Korean manufacturer made the right decision.

After the release of the Galaxy S, for about 5-6 years, the vast majority of companies used IPS in their smartphones, but then OLED completely replaced the competitor in the flagship segment.

As of the current year, absolutely all top gadgets and wearable electronics (smart watches and bracelets), as well as most mid-budget smartphones, are equipped with OLED-like matrices. IPS, on the other hand, remains the lot of budget models and some mid-range devices. As a result, 3 years ago, the number of installed OLED and LCD panels in smartphones equaled.

Photo: GSMarena

Availability of modern OLED

Since OLED screens have become a mass phenomenon, the cost of their production has dropped significantly. For example, the first mass-produced TV Sony XEL-1 in 2007 at the time of release offered a diagonal of only 11 inches with a resolution of 960 × 540 pixels. The device was estimated at an impressive $ 2,500: according to Sony representatives at the time of the presentation, the price of a running inch of TV was $200.

Now a regular OLED TV costs around $2,000-2,500, but the quality is completely different. The diagonal starts from 50 inches, the resolution is not lower than 4K (3840 × 2160 pixels), not to mention the matrix refresh rate of 120 Hz. That is, every inch of modern and much more advanced TV is valued at $50..

Smartphones are in a similar situation. Samsung Galaxy S was sold for $700 at launch, and the current budget Redmi Note 10S with AMOLED officially costs less than $300 in Russia. Obviously, in a couple of years, OLED will finally outweigh IPS matrices in percentage terms, although fully LCD-like screens will be available to users for a long time to come.

The promise of OLED

The advantages of OLED are deep blacks and high brightness, wide color gamut, reduced power consumption and response time. However, the main advantage of OLED over LCD is the ability to bend the matrix. That is why the smartphone market is increasingly filled with foldable devices. Almost every manufacturer wants to demonstrate their flexible smartphone.

Data from DSCC analysts confirms the trend. In the first quarter of 2022, shipments of foldable devices increased by 571% to 2.22 million units compared to the same period in 2021. An increase of almost 6 times. And this is despite the fact that foldable smartphones remain niche gadgets due to their high average cost of $1,000.

Number of foldable devices shipped in the last 3 years. Photo: DSCC

It is not difficult to answer the question why this is happening: people need large displays in smartphones, but at the same time, using modern “shovels” is inconvenient. Therefore, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Huawei P50 Pocket received the greatest popularity among the current “clamshells”. When unfolded, they are no different from a classic monoblock smartphone, and when folded, they fit comfortably in jeans pockets. Without losing functionality, users get devices that are more practical in everyday use.

Will LCD and OLED be replaced in the future?

Since we cannot see into the future, we can only make predictions about how long LCD and OLED will be out of competition. Fortunately, analytical data is already available, indicating that these two fundamental technologies are not eternal.

miniLED и microLED

Earlier, we dealt in detail with the question of what microLED is. You can learn more about the upcoming development here. Here we restrict ourselves to a brief description of both technologies. Roughly speaking, miniLED and microLED are LCD and OLED at maximum speed, the next stage of their development.

miniLED is a new type of zoned backlight for classic LCD screens. The development allows you to highlight only the necessary areas on the display (a conventional LCD has solid backlighting). This uses less power and produces deep blacks. If individual pixels are lit in OLED, then individual pixels are highlighted in miniLED.

Thus, we get an analogue of OLED in terms of black depth and energy efficiency, but without its significant drawback in the form of ripples (PWM), from which many eyes hurt. And the brightness can reach an incredible 4000 nits.

Photo: Vidilab

microLED is a replacement for OLED that also does not require a separate backlight. However, the self-luminous pixels here are based on an inorganic material (gallium nitride). What does it give:

  • Pixels don’t burn out as quickly over time. Even after 11 years of continuous operation, there are no ailments such as afterimage and brightness drop;
  • microLED power consumption is 50% lower than OLED;
  • up to 30 times brighter with the same perfect black color;
  • the response time is a million times lower and is measured not in milliseconds, but in nanoseconds;
  • lower cost of production of matrices (in theory).

MicroLED has a huge number of advantages, but one of the most important is the ability to create modular displays. MicroLED allows you to assemble a large monitor from many small ones. Like a constructor.

This technology will give a huge boost to the production of large TV panels. You can make a screen in the entire wall: without seams, without fear of breaking the entire display, with huge resolution, with incredible brightness and viewing angles. Watch this video and you will immediately understand the promise of microLED.

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When to expect mini and microLED?

Speaking of miniLED, the next evolution of LCD, in 2021, Apple has already made it possible for consumers to purchase a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with such a screen. According to rumors, this year the Cupertino also plan to release an iPad Pro with a miniLED display.

When we will have its technology in smartphones is unknown, but sooner or later it will happen. After all, this is a great PR move to increase sales. And not a marketing dummy, as is the case with macro cameras, but a real and very cool technology.

With microLED, everything is more complicated. Although the first TV with a similar matrix was shown by Sony 10 years ago, it was only in 2018 that Samsung again loudly reminded of the technology. After 4 years, we have only a small number of commercial offers from the South Korean company and its competitor LG. Basically, brands produce TV at exorbitant prices.

The price tags are so big that the companies do not disclose them. Although Sony lifted the veil of secrecy. One of her branded modules with dimensions of 40.3 × 45.3 cm (320 × 360 pixels) costs 10 thousand dollars (567 thousand rubles at the current exchange rate).

According to Sony, a wall of Crystal LED panels can replace chroma key. Making movies will be easier. Source: Sony

For understanding, the production of a TV with Full HD resolution requires 18 such modules, with a resolution of 4K – 72 modules, and 8K – 288 modules. That is, for a state-of-the-art TV with Full HD resolution, you will have to pay at least $ 180,000. The Chinese Konka has a slightly more modest price tag – for 118 inches the company asks from $240,000, and a 236-inch model will cost $1,260,000 (71 million rubles at the current exchange rate).

But the current huge sums are not a hindrance to the development of technology. According to N-Tech Research forecasts, microLED products, including smartphones, will become available to the general public only by 2024 (according to rumors, Apple Glasses will receive microLED). It is obvious that, as usual, the pen test will be in the flagship sector, and after 2-3 years the technology will appear in more affordable gadgets. However, these are only forecasts, not a roadmap.

Фото: Twitter / @ntechresearch

Eventually

Users will be able to afford a smartphone with miniLED or a more interesting development of microLED in the next five years, within a maximum of 10 years. Yes, not soon, but this is good news, because by the time the first mass-produced gadgets with new screens appear, we will have access to devices with LCD and OLED, brought to perfection. Matrices in flagships, which today cost almost half of the cost of devices, will become commonplace for budget devices in the future.

We can safely conclude that sooner or later mini- and microLED technologies will significantly replace the current types of displays. That these are not dummy developments, but a new word in the development of matrices. However, LCD and OLED will delight users for many years to come, so fans of the “classic” IPS should definitely not worry.

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