What’s new in wearables and how can e-paper displays improve existing devices?
The wearables market has certainly encountered its ups and downs over the last few years. The boom of fitness trackers and smartwatches coming onto the market has certainly made waves, but wearable tech in general has had a mixed reception. The marmite of the tech world: people either seem to love wearables or they don’t see the point. That said, the wearables market is expected to reach well over £110B annually by 2026, so clearly this technology isn’t going anywhere.
Given the crowded and competitive nature of the wearables market, any materials and technologies that offer engineers new ways to differentiate their designs are particularly interesting. On this basis, Plastic Logic’s ultra-thin, light-weight and flexible e-paper displays are getting plenty of attention, given the enormous opportunities for they open up in wearable device applications including smart cards, jewellery, watches and devices for mobile health monitoring.
Flexible e-paper displays boast a range of benefits over traditional displays. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to bend displays into various new form factors, e-paper displays are also extremely low-power, which means creative battery-powered designs can be used for prolonged periods of time, without the need for constant recharging.
Here are a few wearable devices that could benefit from the addition of e-paper technology…
Currently, there are a select number of smartwatches on the market that use e-paper displays. Devices such as the Pebble Time, integrates e-paper displays over the traditional AMOLED or LCD screens. By doing so, the device becomes more lightweight and extremely low-power, meaning you do not have to re-charge the wearable anywhere near as often as a classic smartwatch. With the additional benefit of being easily readable in bright sunlight, e-paper could be an extremely attractive addition to the entire smartwatch industry particularly for outdoor use.
For med-tech devices, e-paper technology offers similar benefits over current designs. This is particularly true of technologies that monitor blood sugar levels for people coping with diabetes, such as the Freestyle Libre patch which will soon be available on the NHS for people living with type one diabetes. Wearable sensors like these usually come with a counterpart device to take and display the readings from the sensor to the user. However, if the wearable sensor was fitted with a small e-paper display, patients could simply look at their arm to see real-time information and their blood sugar levels.
Fitness wearables are constantly evolving and improving but there’s still more that can be done. For example, if designers were to take the functions of a wearable fitness tracker and integrate them into other products using e-paper technology, they could differentiate themselves from those already on the market. For example, fitting a small speedometer display into gloves to show real-time speed, would benefit skiers, runners and cyclists and eliminate the need to check a counterpart device. Similarly, the light-weight e-paper display could be integrated into clothing fabric to make measuring altitude or counting steps quick and easy – the perfect addition for outdoor adventurers.
With the market for wearables is looking optimistic again, and new concepts and designs hitting the market every week, consumers are constantly trying out new devices. However, in order to stay savvy, manufactures can innovate and improve designs using materials such as e-paper, for fitness, health and fashion devices, in order to stand out in what is, and will continue to be, a very competitive market.