OLED (or AMOLED if the screen contains touch capabilities) displays are great for anyone who wants superior color and contrast in a thinner package and is willing to pay a premium for it. The most important way that OLED differs from your run of the mill LCD technology is the way the color is produced. In traditional displays, colors are created by shining a halogen or white LED light source through a translucent layer of LCDs that can change color. This works fine and is good enough for most consumers, but the question remains: why have two layers instead of one? That’s where OLED comes in. With this technology, the light is produced directly by an array of colored LEDs. No filtering, just colored light sources.
A close up view of an OLED display. Image courtesy of Les Numeriques.
OLED has been around for some time as small monochromatic displays. It wasn’t until the discovery of the blue LED in the late 1990’s that color OLED displays were made possible. After a few more years of shrinking down the components, the first OLED screens started popping up in high-end cameras and printers. However, the main reason they didn’t gain widespread use was their cost; OLED screens were originally much more expensive than their LCD counterparts, so most manufacturers opted for the cheaper option. While this is still true for large screens such as computer monitors and TVs, the margin between LCD and OLED for small screens has been steadily shrinking over the last few years. Finally, in the first few months of 2016, a 5” high definition screen was cheaper to produce with OLED technology than traditional LCD technology. This is a huge development for smartphones, and OLED screens have the potential to enhance many features of smartphones once manufacturers begin implementing them.
Samsung's flexible smartphone concept, due to hit shelves in the summer of 2016. Image courtesy of Les Numeriques.
First off are thickness and weight. A few years ago Samsung revealed an OLED smartphone display that was so thin it could be rolled up into a tube. Because OLED technology consists of only a single layer of components instead of multiple, screens can feasibly be shrunk down to the thickness of a single LED. This would leave more room in phones for other items such as a better thermal control or a larger battery, or it would allow phones to be thinner altogether to the point of being flexible. In terms of weight, using less components simply means a lighter overall screen.
Another feature of OLED screens that lends itself to mobile use is power consumption. One of the pitfalls of the smartphone revolution has been battery life; old flip phones could go for days without being recharged while modern smartphones need to be refueled every night. OLED screens could at least alleviate this problem as these displays can consume as low as forty to fifty percent of the power used by similar LCD displays. On most mobile phones, the screen is one of the largest power drains, so cutting back on consumption could stretch battery life for a much longer time.
A viewing angle comparison between an LCD display and an OLED display. Image courtesy of Digital Trends.
OLED screens are also much better in terms of image quality. The filter method employed by LCDs can lead to uneven brightness, narrow viewing angles, and low contrast. OLED fixes all of these problems, and creates a smooth, clear image that can be seen from a much wider angle. In addition, since LEDs can change colors faster than liquid crystals, OLED screens can have much faster response times and less motion blur than their competitors. Image quality will be a huge selling point for travellers who enjoy watching movies or viewing photos on their phones.
All in all, cheaper OLED screens means improvements for future smartphones in terms of size, power usage, image quality, and now cost. In the near future, manufacturers will be able to take advantage of OLED technology to make the next generation of smartphones different from any that have come before, so next time you’re due for a phone upgrade, don’t be surprised if your new phone looks like something out of Star Trek!