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:
Korean site ETNews says that Apple will release three new iPhone models in 2020 - all with OLED displays. There will be a 5.4", 6.1" and 6.7" models.
For the 5.4" and 6.7" models, Apple will rely exclusively on Samsung Display for its AMOLED displays - and will adopt Samsung's Y-OCTA technology (on-cell touch) which enables thinner panels. ETNews says that SDC offered great terms for Apple to secure the 2020 exclusivity.
Apple developed its LTPO backplane technology for OLED displays to enable power saving of around 5-15% compared to LTPS AMOLEDs. LTPO was adopted in Apple's Watch Series 4 and Watch Series 5 smart watches - with the panels produced by LG Display using Apple's technology and IP.
According to a new report from Korea, Samsung has recently developed its own brand of LTPO backplane technology and has started to produce such panels - which are adopted by the company's latest smart watch, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 (which recently started shipping). The watch has a 1.2" 360x360 or 1.4" 360x360 round AMOLED displays.
According to a new report from Korea, Samsung Display will supply around 40-50 million flexible AMOLED displays to Apple in the second half of 2019. Apple's latest iPhone lineup was met with positive market response (this was already reported earlier this month by Bloomberg).
According to the report, Samsung supplied Apple with 3.9 million OLEDs in July, 8.4 million in August and 9.9 million in September. Apple's original plan was to order 6.9 million panels in September but demand was stronger than expected.
In April 2019 Reuters reported that Japan Display (JDI) signed a deal with Apple to supply it with AMOLED displays for its smartwatches, and today JDI's new CEO Minoru Kikuoka said that the company recently started producing OLED displays - likely indeed this is low volume production for Apple's wearables.
Apple's Watch Series 5 (its latest generation) features a 324x394 1000-nits always-on LTPO AMOLED display (368x448 on the 44m model). Apple is currently buying these OLED displays exclusively from LGD.
Samsung posted its Q3 2019 financial estimates - and the company's income was higher than what was expected from analysts - even though profit dropped over 50% compared to 2018.
DSCC says that OLED panel unit shipments will reach 1.06 billion by 2023. The growth will peak in 2020 (with a 27% unit growth and 25% revenue growth from 2019). Overall revenues for OLED panels will grow from $26.5 billion in 2018 to $46.2 billion in 2023.
DSCC says that it lowered its OLED TV forecast for 2020-2023, as LGD is delaying both its Guangzhou 8.5-Gen fab ramp up and its P10 10.5-Gen line by one year. New LCD technologies, including dual-cell LCD and miniLEDs will also hurt the growth of the OLED TV market. DSCC further reports that LG Electronics will not be able to reach its 2 million OLED TV goal in 2019 - and have asked LGD to supply it with only 2.5 million OLED TV panels in 2020 (the original plan was to supply 3.5 million panels to LGE).
In August 2017, Japan Display announced a last-resort strategic focus on OLED displays as the Japanese display maker failed to shift to OLED displays in time. Two years later, in July 2019, the company announced that it finally secured the 80 billion Yen (around $740 million) bailout plan from the China-based Harvest Group, Hong Kong-based activist investor Oasis Management and an unnamed JDI customer - which is likely to be Apple.
Unfortunately for JDI, the Harvest Group decided not to move forward with the investment after all. The Harvest Group was supposed to provide most of the funds for JDI which could put the Japanese display maker in a difficult position.
DisplayMate tested Apple's latest OLED display, the one used in the iPhone 11 Pro Max (6.5" 2688x1242 458 PPI) and unsurprisingly found that this is top-notch display. Apple improved on the display used in the 2018 iPhone XS Max in several aspects - including 17% higher full-screen peak brightness and up to 15% higher display power efficiency.
DisplayMate especially notes Apple's high-precision display calibration and color accuracy - which is visually Indistinguishable from perfect.
LG Display is currently producing flexible AMOLED displays for Apple's smartwatches in its E2 4.5-Gen line in Paju. The company hasn't been able to improve its financials as LCD prices are under pressure, and following a recent managerial shuffle, it is now reported that LGD is considering shutting down its E2 line.
The E2 production capacity is around 20,000 substrates per month, but it is less economical than LG's larger OLED lines, the E5 and E6 lines which are 6-Gen lines. LG will reportedly move production from its E2 line to its larger lines.
Ireland-based OLED IP company Solas OLED has filed a lawsuit in the US (Texas) against Apple for patent infringements. The lawsuit mentions three patents (USPTO# 6072450, 7446338 and 7573068) that relate to the OLED stack, structure and circuitry (for example one of the patents relates to the formation of a backplane on a polyimide substrate).
Apple is of course not the producer of the OLED displays - but Solas says that Apple is accused of "making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing products that infringe the claims" of its patents. Apple's OLED suppliers are Samsung (for the iPhone and MacBook Pro Touch bar devices) and LG Display (for the Apple Watch display).