The Gap Between Flexible and Wearable Electronics

Written BY

Tony Sun

June 30, 2015

Written by Special Guest Blogger Tony Sun, Lux Research, with brief introduction by Emily Friedman, BrainXchange

Why isn’t more being done to incorporate flexible electronic components into wearable technology? The opportunity exists, the potential outcome being cheaper and lighter wearables; and yet there is a gap between the two categories. Lux’s Tony Sun explains why:

Printed, flexible, and organic electronic (PFOE) technologies, such as e-paper displays, organic light emitting diodes (OLED), and printed sensors, promise conformable form factors, light weight, as well as potentially low cost, creating a lot of interest in using them for wearable electronics. However, despite many people thinking wearables may be the killer application for PFOE, little PFOE innovation actually focuses on wearable applications.

Lux Research examined the 180,000 patents in PFOE and wearables, of which 40,000 and 140,000 target wearables and PFOE, respectively. However, of the 180,000 patents, only about 650 patents address PFOE in wearable devices. The challenge comes down to both which developers are working on these technologies and which PFOE technologies they choose to develop. While Samsung is the leading patent holder in both PFOE and wearables, the list of leading filers quickly diverges. As Qualcomm, Apple, Sony, and Microsoft round out the top 5 wearables developers, only Sony also makes the list of top PFOE developers.

PFOE developers also back several poor technologies. Organic photovoltaic (OPV) is the top patented PFOE technology, but still lacks the conversion efficiency and lifetime for wearables (or all other applications) even after decades of research. On the other hand, technologies like e-paper displays and thin-film batteries are overlooked as they are able to address the key needs of wearables, but attract much less attention.

Opportunity exists to use flexible electronics in wearable devices, as those leading the way in PFOE continue to place bets in the wrong areas, leaving open the door for some overlooked technologies to impact the wearable market.

Tony Sun is an Analyst on Lux Research’s Wearable and Flexible Electronics team. Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.

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