Project Ara: Make Your Own Best Smartphone

Project Ara is Google’s attempt to upend the smartphone industry by making smartphones modular. Want your smartphone to take better photos in low light environments? If Project Ara is successful you might be able to choose from several companies. How about the most important component in a smartphone, the display? Imagine getting to pick the size and pixel format you want: a 5.5-inch 1920×1080 OLED display module by Samsung or an equivalent IPS LCD module by LG Display. Tough call. And when these companies upgrade their displays you won’t be forced to spend several hundred dollars buying a new smartphone just to get the better display.

If only I could combine the rumored 5.5-inch 2560×1440 LCD on the LG G3 with the camera from the Sony Xperia Z2 that DxOMark tested best on a smartphone. That’d be fantastic.


Stuff: The LG G3 will sport a 5.5-inch LCD with a pixel format of 2560×1440 or in display industry jargon Quad HD or QHD, for a resolution of 534 ppi. The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 with 1920×1080 pixels, if true, will look outdated as soon as it comes out.

Some might wonder what the point of a 534 ppi display is if we can’t even see the difference. Well, there is research out there that suggests a much higher threshold: roughly 600 ppi. If the LG G3 comes with a great camera and the battery lasts for a day, I will be tempted.

Rumor: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with Youm Flexible OLED Display

ZDNet Korea: The rumor is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is coming in the second half of 2014 with Youm display technology. What is Youm? Youm is a flexible OLED display technology using plastic substrates. Senior VP of OLED Research at Samsung Display Co. Brian Berkeley demonstrated a prototype three sided Youm display at CES in 2013 (YouTube: Pay particular attention from 1:35.). I’m sure some will take full advantage of having discrete access to information on the side of the smartphone, but I’m more excited about future smartphones becoming more rugged without becoming rugged looking. The idea of an almost indestructible display sounds good to me.

Why Nike Killed Fuelband

1. Tim Cook is on Nike’s board.
2. Apple’s iWatch is coming.
3. Fuelband, and all others like it, would have gotten killed anyway.

Low Cost Ultra HD TV Panel Production

Alex Wolfgram, Digitimes:

Both LG Display and Samsung Display are aiming to mass produce RGBW Ultra HD TV panels to compete against Taiwan-based makers in the China market where low-priced Ultra HD TVs are currently in high demand, according to industry sources.

To me Digitimes is the best source of juicy rumors. I need to figure out what this means: low-priced Ultra HD TVs are in high demand in China. I will be using 4K to refer to Ultra HD from hereon. 4K TVs are expensive, but they are getting cheaper. For example, the 65-inch Samsung UHD 4K LED 9000 Series Smart TV goes for US$3,499.99. As 4K TVs come down in price and hits retail price points such as $2999, $1999, etc. demand for them will increase. I think that’s what’s happening in China: those with a lot of money, say the top 10% which equates to 135 million potential customers, are starting to buy 4K TVs. If just a small portion of those with a lot of money are purchasing 4K TVs in China that could easily be construed as high demand. So that’s what I think it means: rich Chinese are buying 4K TVs as prices are dropping. I don’t think it means China, and the rest of the world, will see cheap 4K TVs any time soon. But it seems 4K monitors are getting cheap really fast: on Amazon, Samsung’s U28D590D, a 28-inch 4K monitor, is going for just $744.50. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Sony Xperia Z2: Not Good In The Sun

Vlad Savov, The Verge:

Sony starts its quest to be the best with the most important component on any device: the display. Muted and lifeless LCDs were a chronic weakness of the company’s previous Xperia devices, so the new Live Color LED screens on the Z2 and Z2 Tablet make for an incredibly gratifying upgrade. Colors stay true and vibrant, contrast is strong enough to make blacks appear truly black, and viewing angles are almost (but not quite) as good as on the excellent HTC One and iPhone 5S. At long last, the flagship Sony smartphone can stand alongside its direct competitors. Still, even with the widest color gamut of any mobile device and 1080p resolution, Sony’s new IPS screens only bring it up to the same level as the rest — they are not tangibly better than the industry’s standard setters. And in one important respect, they are markedly worse.

Sony feels like Microsoft. I remember when anything Microsoft did it didn’t do very well until its third try. If I remember correctly Windows didn’t quite get it right until Windows 3.0, or was it 3.1. During the browser war years when Microsoft wanted not only to dominate the browser market but completely kill off Netscape Navigator it wasn’t until Internet Explorer 3.0 that Microsoft started to chomp away at Netscape’s browser market share.

The Z1 had a lot going for it in terms of industrial design. I prefer slightly angular corners to corners that are rounded too much. I like flat backs. But there are two things I cannot deal with: a bad display, and a bad camera. The Z1 had a decent camera, but a terrible display. With the Z2 Sony has come quite close to getting the display right, but not quite.

Take the Z2 outside and you’ll be confronted by its biggest shortcoming: it’s practically unusable on a sunny day. Even with brightness maxed out, half of my sample photos for this review were composed through guesswork due to the screen being too dim and reflective to provide any useful information outdoors. This vampiric aversion to sunlight is somewhat forgivable on the Z2 Tablet — which is less likely to be used on the move — but is basically a deal-breaker on the Z2. While I appreciate everything Sony has done to make my YouTube experience better, a mobile phone is meant to be mobile. I should be able to see who’s calling me even if I’m not in a dark room.

Reflectance is the word Sony’s display engineers need to remember. The goal is to reduce reflectance as much as possible. I’m with Savov: I use my phone everywhere including when it is sunny outside, and I need to be able to see what’s on my phone’s display. Like Microsoft maybe Sony will get the display right and start taking market share away from the competition with the third try.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept: OLED Touch Screens, Smart Glass for Augmented Reality

Alex Kalogiannis, New York Daily News:

The Discovery Vision Concept, which will be on display at the 2014 New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center, has futuristic features including OLED touch screens in the steering wheel, Smart Glass for augmented reality, and a “see through” hood for seeing obstacles while off-roading.

I like displays, especially the latest and greatest displays. But sometimes I don’t like displays, especially when they are plastered because they just happen to be the newest and coolest technology to incorporate into a less than new and cool thing. An OLED touch screen in the steering wheel? I don’t like this at all.

When the day comes when our cars are fully automatic, meaning they will drive themselves, I won’t mind if everything is made of unbreakable flexible touch displays. But for now I’m the driver and I need to focus on driving. And to focus I need physical knobs and buttons. I need to know I pushed the button or turned the knob, without having to look. No OLED touch displays, thank you. The Smart Glass for augmented reality though might be cool.

Apple to Buy Renesas SP Drivers


Apple is rumored to be in talks with Renesas regarding a potential acquisition of a 55% stake in its display chip joint venture with Sharp and Powerchip, Renesas SP Drivers.

The rumored price is US$480 million.

Renesas SP Drivers is the world’s leading manufacturer of drivers and controllers for small- and mid-sized LCD displays used in mobile devices, and accounts for almost a third of the market. It is also the sole supplier of display controllers used in the iPhone, and counts all three of the companies that make iPhone displays, namely Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display, among its key clients.

Having a single source for display drivers and controllers used for the LCDs in the iPhone is a risk. It doesn’t matter that Apple is sourcing from three different display manufacturers for the iPhone if all three depend only on Renesas SP Drivers.

Still, Apple’s interest in a display-chip designing unit potentially signals its intention to become more vertically integrated in its mobile device businesses. Apple has so far designed only its app processors and fingerprint scanners, and could be looking at integrating display design as well with its overall product development.

I think Apple is simply trying to mitigate the risk of a supply chain disruption by depending on a single company for a set of critical components.

5.5-inch iPhone 6

Ashraf Eassa, The Motley Fool:

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is a big, immensely popular phone that sports a beastly 5.7″ display. Indeed, much to Samsung’s credit, the large-screened Galaxy Note series has really been a commercial success, as customers seek to do even more “PC-like” functionality on their phones. Apple, likely realizing the market share gain opportunity in releasing a larger iPhone, is apparently set to launch a 5.5″ iPhone in Q4, with mostly the same specifications, the main difference being a 1920×1080 5.5″ screen, according to Kuo.

Personally, I don’t see Samsung Galaxy Note 3 users trying to do more PC-like stuff on them. They like the Galaxy Note 3 for one reason: it is big. Icons are big. Texts are big. Webpages are big. The keyboard is big. Everything is big. Big is what a lot of people like. The stylus can be useful, but I’ve not seen it being used in the wild. Not once.

Market share gain opportunity? I think most people who closely follow Apple would disagree Apple does things to go after market share. If Apple is developing a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 it is because Apple thinks there’s a lot of people who would like one. I would like one.

I’ve written on DisplayBlog many times and shared my preference for a smartphone I can use with just one hand. I still prefer the size of the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5. If Apple had made the iPhone 4 thinner, lighter, with more battery life and called it the iPhone 5 I would have been happier. But there’s something more important than being able to use a smartphone with one hand and that’s getting my sanity back.

I don’t want to have to carry more than one mobile device. Right now I have an iPhone and an iPad. That’s two cables. Two devices to charge. Managing two sets of apps, two sets of settings. Two devices to buy accessories for. Two devices that can get damaged or lost. Two devices that randomly reboot or do something funky to ruin my day. I’d rather not have two; I’d rather have one. Life is complicated enough. With a single 5.5-inch iPhone I can ditch the smaller iPhone and the iPad. I’ll need to figure out a comfortable and convenient way to carry around such a big iPhone though, but that’s a small price to pay for not having to deal with two mobile devices. And the 1920×1080 pixel format perfectly matches a lot of 1080p content out there.

Jason Snell on Apple and Wearables

via John Gruber. Jason Snell:

Unfortunately, I fear that tech-industry observers have completely lost their perspective. As Rene has written, no matter how big the wearables market gets, it’s still not going to touch the smartphone market.

IDC reported that in 2013, one billion smartphones were shipped, up 38 percent from the previous year. That’s a fast-growing market worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, on Thursday IDC predicted that the wearables market will reach 112 million units in 2018.

In other words, in four years the wearables market might grow to be one-tenth the size of today’s smartphone market — in units shipped. Presumably the average selling price of wearable items will be a fraction of that of smartphones, meaning the dollar value of the wearables market is even more minuscule compared to the smartphone market.

I disagree. In terms of units, a more affordable — relative to the iPhone — iWatch can sell more. I don’t think Apple is making an iWatch like this, but let’s imagine the iWatch is a stripped down iPhone with about 60-80% of its capabilities. For those who don’t care to have a smartphone or wish they could go back to simpler days when you called and text’d and that was all you did an iWatch might be the solution. Of course instead of painstakingly texting on a numeric keypad you’d be talking to Siri to text on your iWatch. Just hope she is more understanding of languages other than properly spoken American English.

Instead of a partial replacement for the iPhone, if the iWatch is being developed as a complementary wearable device to the iPhone, it may never sell as many as the iPhone. But Apple might be designing the iWatch to be compatible with other smartphones. Apple has done this before: iTunes. If the iWatch is a watch you can use with any modern smartphone then the iWatch will most definitely sell more than the iPhone.

All of this is conjecture. I’ve authored plenty of reports with multi-year forecasts and let’s just say a forecast is merely an opinion, a scenario. Nothing more. So take IDC’s prediction with a grain of salt.


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