OLED is a new display technology, used to create thin, power efficient and bright displays. Today OLEDs are used in mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras and even TV sets - as OLEDs are considered the best display technology ever.
Apple's OLED iPhone
Apple's 10th anniversary iPhone X was the company's first OLED Phone - with a 5.8" 1125x2436 (458 PPI) flexible Super AMOLED display that covers almost the entire front of the phone, HDR, dual lens camera, a Hexa-core A11 Bionic CPU, 3GB of RAM and 64/256 GB of storage.
The iPhone X carries a high price tag, starting at $999. iPhone X sales were lower than expected, which caused problems at Apple's suppliers, including Samsung Display who produces the OLED displays for Apple.
The OLED Apple Watch
The iPhone X is not Apple's first product to adopt an OLED display, though. In April 2015 Apple launched its first wearable device, the Apple Watch which used a flexible AMOLED display (made by LG Display). All Apple Watch products to date continue to use LGD's flexible OLEDs. OLED displays are especially suitable for wearable devices - as the displays are thinner and lighter than LCD displays, and are more power efficient (especially if you tweak the UI to suit the special OLED properties).
Apple OLED MacBook Pro
Apple's MacBook Pro range of high-end laptops started adopting an OLED Touch Bar instead of the traditional function keys in 2016. The display itself is either a 13" or a 15" LCD.
The OLED strip is supported by most of Apple's applications and can show commonly used emojis in messaging applications, bookmarks while you browse and other context-activated options. It also includes a Touch ID sensor that is activated for example when you wish to pay online (on supported web stores). Apple released an API to developers can support the Touch Bar in third-party applications.
The latest Apple OLED news:
According to rumors from Japan, Sony is set to supply Apple with OLED Microdisplays for Apple's future AR headset project. The rumors did not include more information than that...
Apple (like all other consumer electronics giants) is very active with AR R&D, as many believe that AR headsets will be very popular in the future and may replace smartphones. While I'm a bit skeptical about this technology, it is evident that many companies are increasing their R&D efforts in this field.
Apple announced its newest iPhone smartphones, and all of this year's models have OLED displays. All of Apple's new phones also include 5G connectivity and the company's latest A14 bionic 5nm chipset. Interestingly, all these OLED displays offer a refresh rate of 60Hz, it seems as if we'll have to wait for at least one more year to get 90Hz or 120Hz displays from Apple.
So first up we have the iPhone 12 Pro, which features a 6.1-inch 1170x2532 800-nits XDR AMOLED display. The larger iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch 1284x2778 AMOLED. Next we have the iPhone 12 - with its 6.1-inch 1170x2532 HDR10 XDR AMOLED display. Apple also introduced a smaller model, called the iPhone 12 mini which sports a 5.4-inch 1080x2340 HDR10 XDR AMOLED display.
DSCC says that the first half of 2020 has seen lower production at OLED fabs, due to normal season-related weakness in combination with the COVID-10 pandemic. Utilization rates and production capacity, however, rebounded in Q3 and will continue to be higher in Q4 of 2020.
The main reason for the bounce of flexible OLED production in Q3 was due to new products by Apple, Samsung and other device makers. In fact flexible OLED production in 2020 was higher in all months of 2020, including the weak quarters. However rigid OLEDs have seen a large drop in 2020 which has risen slightly in Q3 and will continue to rise - but remain smaller than 2019.
LG Display reported its financial results for Q2 2020 - with revenues up 12% over last quarter, as the company enjoyed an increase in demand for IT panels (monitors, notebooks, tablets). But lower demand for TVs and lower utilization at its POLED fabs increased LGD's operating loss.
LG Display says it expects its Q3 revenues and operation profit to improve - as mass production of OLED TV panels in Guangzhou finally started, and the company will ship pOLED panels to Apple's iPhone 12 in the next quarter. LG maintains its 4.5-5 million OLED TV panel shipment forecast for the whole of 2020.
JDI developed a new OLED production technology, looking for customer partners to commence mass production
Japan Display says it is developing a new OLED production technology that will enable higher resolution and higher efficiency OLED displays, and the company is in talks with potential customers regarding a joint investment in producing next-generation OLEDs.
According to JDI's CEO, the company is using a new manufacturing technology that is different to the evaporation method currently used by OLED makers. It is not clear what is meant by that - it could be an inkjet-printing technology (but achieving high resolution for smartphone displays with inkjet printing is a challenge) or something like OVPD or OVJP - or a new technology developed in-house at JDI.
DSCC estimates that Apple paid around $950 million to Samsung Display in the last quarter - due to lower smartphone OLED orders. Apple is committed to buy a certain amount of displays, and this payment is a fine due to lower orders.
A year ago in July 2019, Apple paid $684 million - again as compensation for lower-than-agreen-on iPhone OLED panel orders.
DSCC posted an interesting article detailing their estimates for the production costs and prices of choice flexible and foldable AMOLED displays, in China and in Korea.
We'll start with the chart above, which compares the prices and quotes of several flexible OLEDs produced by Samsung in Korea. DSCC says that as the profitability of Samsung's OLED business is highly dependent on fab utilization, it is currently losing money on this business as the yields in its flexible OLED lines are only 38% - and fixed costs such as personnel and depreciation cannot be decreased. Having said that, DSCC sees higher utilization in the next two quarters, which will result in profitability for SDC's OLED unit.
Samsung Display is updating its A3 flexible OLED production line, to support two new technologies. The TFT process is being updated, for some of the capacity, to Apple's LTPO technology. LTPO is currently used in Apple's Watch displays, but next-generation iPhones will adopt it as well.
According to UBI, Samsung will dedicate 75,000 monthly substrates to produce smartphone LTPO displays. According to some reports, Samsung has also developed its own backplane technology which is similar to LTPO, it could be that some of this capacity will be used for Samsung's own displays.
Earlier this year, reports from Korea suggested that Samsung Electronics is looking to order some OLED panels from China's BOE - including for its flagship S21 smartphone to be announced later this year.
A new report from Korea's DDaily suggests that BOE failed to pass Samsung's display quality test. Samsung Electronics is likely to retain Samsung Display (partly owned by SE) as an exclusive AMOLED supplier for its 2020-2021 smartphones.
DSCC says that OLED revenues in Q1 2020 were $6.7 billion (up 24% from Q1 2019, but down 18% from Q4 2019). Both Samsung and BOE gained market share in the quarter, as LGD had a weak quarter.
DSCC sees the entire OLED market reaching $33 billion in 2020 (up 18% from 2019). Smartphone OLED sales will reach $26.6 billion, mostly led by a growth in flexible OLED sales. The OLED TV market will grow 19% to 4 million units in 2020. DSCC sees the laptop OLED market increasing significantly in 2020.