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Home > News > Company News > Comment: Fighting the display .....

Comment: Fighting the display disconnect

  • Author:Ella Cai
  • Release on:2018-08-07
We recently surveyed Electronics Weekly readers about display choices in the design process and whether product development is stifled by a lack of display innovation. Tim Burne, CEO of Plastic Logic, considers the results.

From smartphones and wearables to digital signage and industrial terminals, display technology of all shapes and sizes feature heavily in our everyday lives.

I’ve always found it surprising – given how much time users spend engaging with ‘screens’ at home, at work, or on the move – that so many applications and product categories all feature a very similar looking set of ‘me-too’ products.

Why, in so many cases, is product design, and in particular the choice of display, always being approached through the same very limited ‘glass’ ceiling?

Display innovation

Product displays can be a creative canvas for innovation, unlocking new streams of competitive advantage and product differentiation. So why aren’t more designers looking to step outside their comfort zones and innovate with different display technologies (such as e-paper) as a potential way to stand out from the crowd, make products more enticing to customers and ultimately disrupt the status quo?

With the help of Electronics Weekly readers I set out to answer these questions by surveying 115 professional electronics engineers specifically involved in the outline specification or physical design of electronic products featuring integrated displays.

Under pressure

What our findings highlight is a worrying disconnect between the processes engineers use to select displays and the pressure they’re under to produce innovative new product features.

Despite 83% of the engineers we surveyed ranking ‘innovating new product features’ as an important priority — and 66% agreeing that the choice of display has a major impact on the end design of their product — only 20% actually conduct a rigorous assessment of display technologies as part of their design projects. One in ten admit to never reviewing/refreshing the display technology in their products.

We also found that while ruggedness (37%), outdoor readability (31%) and power consumption (30%) were identified as the three most critical elements of the display specification, only 5% of the engineers we surveyed were actively experimenting with e-paper technology.

Given that highly versatile e-paper technology is truly lightweight, flexible, rugged, low power and readable in absolutely any condition it would seem to tick a lot of boxes.

Respondents cited a lack of familiarity and understanding of the benefits of e-paper, cost and challenges in justifying new technology as common reasons why they haven’t used e-paper yet. Clearly more work needs to be done to educate engineers on the material’s benefits and to stimulate experimentation. On the positive side, however, 60% indicated they were likely or very likely to try e-paper in the future.

Supply chain

Another area of concern that our survey shines a spotlight on are the frustrations engineers are experiencing with the display supply chain.

A total of 55% find getting development kits to operate quickly a challenge when integrating displays into their products and 49% say they struggle with prototyping because of display sample availability.

Clearly from my perspective as a display vendor/manufacturer, making e-paper displays as easy to source and evaluate as possible is the best way to inspire innovation and allow customers to experience first-hand how the technology can benefit their devices. If we’re going to be successful in stimulating experimentation with display technologies like e-paper and encouraging more focus on display innovation then it’s crucial we aren’t creating unnecessary barriers in the supply chain and making things harder for the engineers.

Full findings

The full findings of our research are examined in Plastic Logic’s State of Display report, which highlights the importance of pushing beyond comfort zones, fighting compromise and convention, encouraging an open-minded and an informed approach to display selection.

That’s ultimately how brands distinguish themselves in their marketplace: by making products more enticing and usable for their customers, and ultimately disrupting the status quo.

Here are five key takeaways from the State of Display report:

1. FIGHT COMPROMISE
Display choice has a major impact on the end design/product yet many aren’t satisfied with the display in their most recent design.

2. BE RIGOROUS
Producing innovative new product features is a critical priority so more engineers should be assessing lots of different display technologies as part of their design process.

3. OPEN YOUR MIND
E-paper is under-utilised but the features and benefits of the technology tick a lot of the critical boxes on the display specification.

4. BE INFORMED
Perceptions of different display technologies should be formed based on facts not fiction.

5. FIND A PARTNER
Display expertise isn’t abundant. Working with a strong and supportive partner will help avoid design and supply chain frustrations.