Apple Ready To Gamble On New iPhone Technology

Not content with the 3D touch interface that was added to the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus screens, Apple looks set to move to a new screen technology in 2017′s iPhone.

There has been a consistent build up of leaks, rumors, and suggestions from the supply chain that a switch away from the LCD technology currently used by Apple for its iPhone screens is on the cards. Moving to OLED screens would allow for more power efficient displays that have a wider viewing angle, better color reproduction, and a more vibrant display. Apple has been reluctant in the past to make this switch because of worries around the lifespan of OLED screens.

Apple must be confident that these issues are now answered (presumably with technology along the lines of that detailed in its patents using photodiodes and varying the anode pitch in OLED screens). Nikkei Asian Review (via Patently Apple) is reporting that Apple has notified its supply chain of the upcoming switch to OLED for iPhones released in the 2017/2018 smartphone season.

This would point to the adoption of OLED screens for the presumptively tilted iPhone 7S. Going with the 7S as the debut handset makes a certain amount of logistical sense. The external design cues of the iPhone are generally updated in even-numbered years with the cardinal numbered iPhone models, while the internal technology and specifications tend to favour the iPhone ‘S’ models.

That is illustrated in the latest models from Cupertino. The iPhone 6 introduced the new design with the curve edges and taper on the screen, the change in size from 4 inches to 4.7 and 5.5 inches, and the thinner design. The hardware changes that included the addition of 3D Touch, increased memory, and a larger camera sensor, were all seen on the iPhone 6S.

Apple’s Gamble Needs Samsung For New iPhone Technology

The latest report from Korea’s ET News is that Samsung’s display division has won the race to be the primary supplier for OLED display panels destined for a next-generation iPhone. Following Samsung’s weak guidance for Q4 2014 earnings, this advance order, likely to be in place for a number of years, will help stabilise the finances of the South Korean company.

Apple is one of the last manufacturers supplying high-end smartphones with LCD screens. While OLED does have some issues, it also offers vivid colors, a deeper black, lower power requirements, and a thinner construction.

The interesting question is less about if Apple will make the switch, but when. Given the quality and visual impact of OLED displays on other handsets Apple will find it harder to match that quality in future iPhones using LCD screens. There may be one or two final hurrahs in place with LCD that we’ll no doubt see on the iPhone 7, but will Apple wait for the iPhone 8 and a 2018 release or will it push to get the OLED screens in place for the iPhone 7S?

The ‘S’ cycle of iPhone handsets is typically when Apple implements a major change to hardware (as opposed to design changes in the even-numbered years). Previous ‘S’ handsets have seen the introduction of 3D Touch and TouchID. The iPhone 7S is the logical time to introduce a brand new screen technology.

To do so, Apple will need to be confident that its OLED supplier can not only supply the volume of displays required, but also reach Apple’s quality threshold. Traditionally OLED displays have had a shorter lifespan and can exhibit features unwanted features such as burn-in of images. Apple will need confidence that the iPhone is not going to suffer these issues.

Capacity also needs to be considered. Apple will be looking for over 200 million OLED displays per year. That is going to require investment, capital, factories and distribution. It’s unlikely that there is a secret OLED factory running just now to supply the iPhone 7. Both Samsung and LG are working on expanding their OLED facilities, presumably in anticipation of higher orders from smartphone manufacturers.

Only Apple switching could provide such a step-up in requirements. Watch for these factories to come online in early 2017 if the iPhone 7S is going to go with the newer display, or if iPhone fans will be waiting into 2018 for the screen technology almost every other manufacturer considers a standard choice.