Last week Sharp announced a new screen that is essentially viewable from almost every angle. A week or so before that announcement they released news that a mono speaker is now able to be integrated into their screens. As a result of all this news, we decided to dig a little deeper into the unknown realm of mobile displays. The results of our work should both surprise and disturb you.
When you buy a PDA one of the most important factors, if not the most important, in the buying decision is screen quality. I can t tell you how many times a review I ve written has hinged on screen brightness, clarity, etc. In fact, the screen can be so important that some people won t buy a device with questionable screen quality, like the Sony Clie TG50 that suffers from shadows in the backlight. Or how about the HP iPAQ h1945 that suffers from the yellow screen effect when viewed at certain angles? The list can go on
So given all the importance buyers put on screen quality, don t you find it odd that PDA Manufacturers rarely disclose the screen manufacturer and the screen s true specifications? I mean, if the screen is what a buying decision often hangs on, don t you think it s the manufacturers duty to give you proper information to make your decision?
First a little background
Sharp has released early proof of concept models for the speaker in screen technology and their new Advanced TFT screen with fantastic viewing angle and superior performance in sunlight. The latter is a more important announcement though, as samples will go out in December and PDAs could be on the market in the first half of next year with this revolutionary display.
Sharp’s new mobile Advanced Super View display
So, Sharp has new technology, the PDA world should rejoice right? After all, you ll soon get better screens in your PDAs which means; better viewing angles, less battery drain, smaller form factors, and a brighter and clearer picture. Everything s great right? Wrong!
The worst part about this new technology is that odds are, Sharp won t be able to disclose which PDAs have their new screens in them. Ok, so you re thinking, no big deal, I ll hold a new PDA next to an old one and the difference will be clear. Wrong again. Another little known fact about the mobile display industry is that more often than not, there are at least two display manufacturers involved in a specific product. That means for something like the HP iPAQ h5400 series, there are two or more players involved.
PDA manufacturers don t like to be married to any one vendor. Inventory is a primary concern, so having two or more vendors protects the manufacturer from display shortages, which do happen. But this relationship where two display vendors have to provide a near identical product is extremely odd.
Picture this example. Sharp and Sony are both selling displays to a popular PDA manufacturer for a new model. What happens is that once the final specs are decide on, Sharp has to work with Sony directly to ensure their two screens are nearly identical. What other business can you think of where two staunch competitors have to ultimately work intimately with each other to win half of the contract?
Even though they work together, it s not accurate to assume that product quality is the same. In fact, many times it s not. Have you ever exchanged a PDA because the screen looked a little off? Sometimes it takes two or three before you are finally content with the display. That could be because after the last trade, you received a PDA with a screen from a different vendor. The difference is impossible to tell by just looking at the display. The only way to be certain who s screen you have is to take the PDA apart and look for the serial number. Depending on a few key characters you can determine who made the screen and what quality it is. The only problem is that unless you know someone on the inside, those codes will be meaningless.
If you think this entire concept is weird, it s about to get a bit more strange. There are only a handful of players in the mobile display market, and only a few more PDA manufacturers. There is of course some overlap. That is, Sharp makes displays and they also make PDAs. The same can be said for Samsung, Toshiba, Sony and perhaps a few others. Would you find it interesting to know that some of those manufacturers use displays from competitors rather than their own product? For instance, the new Sony Clie UX50 may not have a Sony screen, or perhaps 50% have Sony screens while the others have something else. This is common practice and could be perceived as deceptive, especially for brand-loyal buyers who think they re getting 100% Sony.
I think we need to start seeing a little more disclosure from PDA manufacturers when it comes to screen technology. The screen is what PDA users interact with the most. It s one of the most expensive parts of the PDA. Most importantly, it s what many buyers base their buying decision on. But, it s the one thing we know the least about.
I want more detailed specs from manufacturers. Go to any one of their sites and you ll see things like, 65,000 colors transflective. That bit of information is utterly useless in the grand scheme of things. Even the word transflective isn t an accurate description of the display being used, as there can be many flavors of transflective display, some leaps and bounds better than another.
To take this a step further, I also want the manufacturers to mark their boxes with the display vendor. If I m going to spend hundreds of dollars on a PDA, I think it should be within my power to determine which screen to buy when there is more than one provider. As we ve already seen, Sharp has new technologies that will not easily be replicated by the competition. I m not going to be happy knowing that I just bought a PDA with a screen that might not be as good as the same model PDA my friend bought.
The bottom line is that consumers need to be better educated when it comes to display technology. While the tactics of PDA Manufacturers are not intentionally deceptive, the entire situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. My hope is this article will help you understand how the industry works which may help you make more informed buying decisions in the future.