Lighting Industry, News

Philips on exiting OLEDs: They’re ‘niche’

Hitting the wall: Three years ago, Philips had high hopes for its OLED future, which it showed off in this picture of an interactive OLED wall. It now sees the technology's chances in a different light.

Philips, which has so far said little about its recent decision to exit the organic light-emitting diode business, is now making this much clear: It believes that for the foreseeable future, the OLED market will remain only small and specialty, and will not benefit from the fledgling movement to connect lighting into digital networks, the way LEDs will.

As Lux reported two weeks ago, Philips is selling off its OLED operations in order to concentrate on LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and LED-based lighting services. Those serivces include tying LEDs into data networks as part of an industry movement toward ‘smart lighting’ and the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ which takes advantage of LEDs’ digital nature. Intelligent lighting can be controlled and fine-tuned remotely by various devices, people or sensors, and can help transmit data about traffic, emergencies, air quality and many other things.

Philips has been taciturn about its decision to dump OLEDs, a product that many people say is lighting’s future. The company disclosed the move quietly only through an internal announcement in January. It declined our request to interview an executive, but instead emailed us a statement lauding the possibilities for LEDs in connected lighting and downplaying the prospects for OLEDs.

‘The LED market is attractive: sizeable and growing,’ a Philips spokesperson said. ‘LED lighting allows for new applications and experiences, and promise to become a dominant/important part of the Internet of Things…OLED is a different form of solid state lighting, with specific attributes that are valuable in specific, niche, applications. Compared to the overall SSL market the niche will be small, while it may develop to a reasonable size in absolute terms.’

While Philips had previously talked up the connected lighting possibilities for LEDs as justification for its sale of the OLED group, the company had not publicly labeled the OLED market as ‘niche’ (although industry observers have).

OLEDs are thin patches of materials that emit light from their surface and in principle can be bent into the fabric of everything from furniture to clothing to buildings, liberating lighting from the bulb form factor. Proponents have long believed they represent lighting’s future.

But developers have grappled to lower costs, match LED efficiency, and to make OLEDS larger than a few square inches. (South Korea’s LG Chem recently made strides when it unveiled an OLED that measures a little over a square foot, although the company remains well short of  hitting its efficiency goals).

Philips, which is already struggling financially in its move to digital lighting, has now clearly had enough of trying to advance OLEDs beyond ‘specialty’ status. A few years ago, the company hailed the technology for having an ‘unbelievable’ future (see video below). Those were prophetic words, as Philips has indeed now lost belief.

At the same time, LEDs continue to improve in many aspects, including efficiency, colour rendering and colour temperature. Developers are also figuring out ways to free them from the bulb form factor, which still predominates.

Meanwhile, another lighting technology, laser diodes, looms on the horizon.

Photo is a screen grab from a 2012 Philips YouTube video, posted below

When OLEDs had an ‘unbelievable’ future: