With talk of the Internet of Things in every corner of the tech sphere, Samsung expects displays to become more ubiquitous -- not just in the home and on smartphones, but to spill over more and more to the public sphere.
"We had the team for quite some time but it was around 2008 that we started seeing rapid growth in the area," said KT Son, vice president of the enterprise business team under Samsung's Visual Display division, which produces every non-mobile product with a display panel. "In terms of technology, there is no limit to what we can do with displays today, and this is now the megatrend," he said in an interview at the firm's headquarters in Suwon, south of Seoul.
2008 was when Samsung, after topping then-rival Sony in TVs two years prior, was quickly cementing its dominant position in Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) which was pushing thick CRT TVs into oblivion.
Technology has evolved further since then, as has Display's cross-industry applications. Son's team was behind the 55-inch transparent and "mirror" displays unveiled last year that Samsung is aiming to apply first to the fashion industry. More recently, it supplied its displays to the Safety Truck concept in Argentina that is set to go live in four months.
The market for commercial, or non-consumer displays is only expected to grow going forward. According to market research firm IHS, the market for public displays, which includes publicly displayed TVs, was worth $5.206 billion in 2014. This will grow to $7.174 billion in 2017 and $8.77 billion by 2019.
Samsung controlled 25.3 percent of the market in 2013 and 26.9 percent in 2014, shipping 2.378 million and 2.684 million units respectively, and selling the most in the sector. Its marketshare is expected to increase further in the coming years.
Where that demand comes from is also diversifying, according to Son. Hotels and airports have always been a favourite -- which have now dumped old CRT TVs for LCD ones -- and are quickly changing their "static" signage to digital ones.
"For hotels, check-in processes are being quickly digitalized. For example, individual customers can have personalised messages displayed in their rooms, and monitor billing information and checkout, and inspect what is in the vicinity of the hotel. Even in conventional settings, new business opportunities are increasing," said the vice president.
Demand from North America and Europe is increasing, while new emerging markets have started to show interest. Areas driving the uptake are retail, public transport, control centres, museums, exhibition centres, theme parks, department stores, and office conference rooms.
"Our Visual Display business is divided into two. Consumer products are focused on entertainment. For our B2B products, on the other hand, [we] must focus on helping our clients in their respective businesses. And their needs are different, client by client. What we are trying to do is accept these new demands and provide a solution that combines software and hardware."
Of course, B2B displays can be used just as much for entertainment. Samsung has recently installed its display on a cruise liner, though Son declined to name the client. Each project is worth millions, the executive said, but didn't state revenues.
How big the client wants the display to be also differs greatly, and one of the things Samsung offers is a "video wall". Each tile of display can have bezels as thin as 0.7 millimetres -- which the company is working on making even thinner -- so the lines between them are practically invisible. Samsung can make each tile as big as 460 inches. These displays go through extensive factory testing, for resolution and durability, before being delivered to clients.
Video walls are extensively used at Samsung's headquarters. Corridors are filled with video walls that alternatively post employee notices and broadcast company announcements, while some divisions even use displays solely as a calendar.
Building a Platform
"Each client is a part of a different vertical value chain, so the solution patterns are all different. We want to offer something that is adaptable," said Son.
Increased demand prompted Samsung into building a platform in 2013 to allow clients to control their displays better. It has built a content management solution that allows them to remotely configure the displays using a smartphone or a tablet, and made an open platform called Samsung Smart Signage Platform that allows clients' IT managers to apply their own CMS if need be.
The enterprise display team works closely with the firm's mobile division and semiconductor division. Custom made application processors are used for the public displays and "conversations are ongoing" with the mobile division to increase collaboration and interoperability, said Son.
"Our hope is that a legitimate value chain is created in this area," he said. "Return of investment is very important for our clients -- part of our job is to show them that our display and our platform can deliver that cost-effective benefit. So we offer our solution that allows them to remotely schedule their contents as well as delivery and management."
"Samsung works with various on-site system integrators (SI) and partners, content makers, and network managers with individual projects. We work closely with SIs. For example, due to security concerns, airport access is extremely limited. You need cranes to install displays high-up. You need the know-how and partnership, [like] we have built, and are continuing to [build]."
Unlike consumer display products which are turned on and off, most public displays are operated 24/7, so a key point is to make them as durable as possible.
"Making enterprise displays is a more daunting task than consumer ones. Because if the display suddenly malfunctions, it can threaten a client's whole business operations while it is down," said Son. "We have demand in both indoor and outdoor settings. In outdoor settings, our products are obviously water- and dust-proof."
"Outdoor demand is increasing so we've prepared ways, based on our long know-how, to make both the display as well as the main body that hosts the panels and its enclosures water- and dust-proof."
An inspector is sent to where the display is expected to be placed, who sends back humidity, weather changes, and overall environment to HQ. Samsung reviews them before going into design and production. Regulations are different for countries regarding where or when a luminous device can be installed on public locations, so these administrative matters are closely consulted before rollout.
Because the displays are comparatively larger and the videos played on them are high-resolution, issues such as image-sticking can be a huge problem, as well as direct sunlight that blackens the screen.
"We have patented technology that prevents these things. We also offer three-year warranties for our clients," Son said.
The Integrated Systems Europe tradeshow is expected to kick off in Amsterdam on Tuesday, where the South Korean tech conglomerate will heavily promote its portfolio to woo more business clients.
Global car brand BMW -- an important client for Samsung that buys its displays, batteries, and chips -- recently launched its third global driving centre in South Korea at Yeongjongdo, near Incheon International Airport. Artistic use is also common, especially clothing brands that make brand promotional videos tailored to the displays. In schools, old chalk-boards are being replaced with digital ones, with Samsung already offering them in South Korea and other East Asian countries.
"The consumer brand and enterprise brand is different. For us, we want to build our Samsung brand in the enterprise display market as a reliable brand," said Son. "But of course, ubiquitous display means the displays in public and private areas will have more and more effect on each other, and sync, offering a more personalised service for consumers that they can use both indoors and outdoors."
"We can't do it alone. We hope that as the only vendor that can offer a full spectrum of products -- indoor, outdoor, LCD, LED, and OLED -- we can become a reliable advisor to our partners that are looking to change or upgrade their displays from static to digital."