Business / Tech

Japan Display plans foray into consumer markets with smart motorcycle helmets and mirrors

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Japan Display Inc. said Wednesday it will expand its business portfolio by launching new products for consumers, aiming to maximize the advantage of its technologies while gaining new sources of revenue.

The Tokyo-based small and midsize panel-maker has been focused on a business-to-business model, and relies heavily on producing smartphone displays — especially for Apple handsets.

Japan Display unveiled several prototype consumer products at a Wednesday event in Tokyo, such as a smart helmet that can directly show digitized speed and map information in the drivers’ view. It applies a heads-up display technology that is being used in more cars as of late, which shows key driving information in the driver’s line of sight. This enables the drivers to avoid looking down while checking such information.

It also presented a mirror, equipped with digital displays, that has a voice agent and camera which can shoot selfies and display them on a screen.

The camera is particularly handy if users want to check their appearance from behind, while the displays can also show weather information, personal schedules and news.

“We have lots of world-class and advanced technologies,” said Yoshiaki Ito, Japan Display’s chief marketing officer, during a news conference at the event.

Emphasizing the need for the struggling firm to evolve, Ito said the firm wants to facilitate innovation with its technologies — and in order to do that, it must go beyond being just a parts supplier.

“The consumer product business widens possibilities,” he said.

Ito refrained from giving details such as a sales forecast for the consumer business, saying that it’s still too early to tell.

Japan Display has been struggling to make a profit for the past four business years, having been locked in a fierce battle with smartphone panel-makers overseas. The firm posted a record ¥247.2 billion net loss in the last business year, which ended in March, in which more than a half of its sales were to Apple.

The smartphone panel business depends on the sales of handsets — which fluctuates, as certain models may not sell well — and growth in sales of smartphones has also slowed worldwide.

“Japan Display’s main battlefield is the mobile market but this business is highly volatile,” Ito said.

The company is also betting on automotive displays, demand for which is expected to keep growing. The firm aims to nearly double its sales in the auto display business within five years, to ¥190 billion.