Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

We Solved the Wrong Problem…July 2005

In spite of the soothing sounds of classical music coming from his clock radio, Jeff decided that he may as well get up and get ready for work. He expected today to be much like any other typical workday. He arose, showered, got dressed and checked his e-mail. After deleting the sixty spam messages that had accumulated overnight, he headed for his car and the drive to his office. While creeping along in rush hour traffic, he made a few quick phone calls and then stopped at a Starbucks for a latte and a breakfast roll. While having his coffee, he took care of a few more e-mails using the in-store Wi-Fi connection. Once at work, he had a brief meeting with his boss and then went on-line to search for several new components that he needed for his project. Having found what he was looking for, he noticed that he had only about one hour left to work out some design details and try a computer simulation that he thought might solve a pesky output mismatch problem.

All too soon he had to head for the airport for a short overnight trip to visit his most important client. Fortunately, the computer simulation showed that the mismatch problem was most likely resolved. Although he would not know for sure until he built a prototype of the complete module, at least he had something concrete to present during his project review the next day. While waiting for his flight, he had a few minutes to once again check his e-mail – this time using the airport’s complimentary Wi-Fi connection. Then while getting on the airplane, he used the time to retrieve the latest voice messages and responded to a few of these calls that had come in since he left the office. Later that evening after reaching his destination, he spent several more hours responding to more voice mail messages and working through the e-mails that had accumulated during the day. Finally, some time after midnight, he was able to shut down and get some badly needed sleep.

On this same day in Germany, Ernst, an engineering manager at a large electronics company, was spending his day much the same way. And in Japan, Shigeo, a program manager at a well-known display company was also performing many of these same activities. And so was Sasha, a professor at Moscow State University, and many other engineers and engineering managers in almost every corner of the globe.

As with most of us, Jeff works with at least one computer at home, one at work, and a laptop for in between. All of these machines have multi-GHz microprocessors with massive computation capabilities. But just how much of this power is needed to receive and respond to e-mails? How much computation power is needed for Jeff and his counterparts to perform their typical activities? How much is needed to search the Internet? How much for word processing, or for downloading images from a digital camera? It seems that the only time during this typical day that Jeff used the computational power of one of his machines was when he ran the simulation program for his new module design.

Since the mid-80s, when the PC first came into being, we have been on a race to make it and its laptop variant ever more powerful. The assumption apparently has been that somehow we would figure out how to use this ever-increasing power if it was simply made available to us. Well, about the only application where all this computing power has turned out to be useful is for games that generate rapidly moving images of ever-higher realism. For most of us doing our never-ending e-mails, searching the Internet, writing memos, and creating an occasional spread sheet, all this computing power is sitting there simply not doing much of anything.

We don’t need more powerful computers. Instead, we need further improvements in how we communicate and access information. My cell-phone drops me in the middle of a call on a regular but unpredictable basis. My e-mail inbox is full of spam each day in spite of using a mild spam filter. I have to be continually alert for viruses that can wreck my computer and that can intrude from virtually any source. My personal and financial information is at ever-greater risk. I get notices from well-known companies that turn out to be well-engineered fakes instead. My communications ability is limited to certain places and by arbitrary charges imposed by the providers. I can compute but I can’t communicate. And this, while my ratio of communicating to computing is now significantly greater than 10 to 1.

What, I wonder, would have happened if back in the mid-eighties we had realized that communicating would be even more important than computing. What if the power of the Internet had become apparent to us sooner? What if Google had become the dominant company before, or instead of, Microsoft? Would this have made our lives easier? And for all of us in the display community, would this have changed the way display technology evolved?

It seems to me that if we could turn back the clock and do it all over again, we would pay far more attention to the communication and security aspects. Had we done that I am sure that by now our cell phones would be more reliable. It would not be necessary to have to search -- and frequently pay -- for an Internet connection whenever we sit in an airport or arrive at a hotel. In fact, even en-route we would most likely by now have access to communications channels. The reason that today we don’t have any of this is because the few dominant companies decided to work on and solve the wrong problem. They drove the technologies that they knew how to drive and did not appreciate that there were other even more important problems to solve. Do most people even care anymore whether their new computers operate at 2 GHZ or 4? Do they even realize that the real speed is only a fraction of that due to the memory access speed that is perhaps only a few hundred megahertz?

Would any of this have affected the evolution of display products? I really don’t think so. Whether we compute or communicate, the needs for displaying information are not all that different. Whether we are using our computers to create images or to download ones that already exist, the display needs turn out to be remarkably similar. The availability and effectiveness of location-independent communications does not change the basic display technology needs.

However, the more we communicate -- no matter where we are -- the more we will need displays that are easily usable in all environments. For example, we will be driven to create displays that are more readable when used outdoors. With the growth of the cell phone industry and with the ongoing evolution of information search capabilities, we in the display community will have a great opportunity to respond to this growth with products that provide superb images in all locations and under all lighting conditions. But these new displays will have to accomplish this with a minimum of power consumption. We cannot expect battery technology to save us if we do not come up with more efficient ways to produce these brighter images. The next few years will be especially interesting for the development of portable information-age appliances. This will, therefore, present a major new opportunity for the development and implementation of new display technologies.

Perhaps over the next five to ten years we will finally solve the “right” problem that should have been solved a number of years ago. What are your thoughts? Will we achieve a better balance between compute power and communications capability? You may reach me directly though this site, by e-mail at, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.