As OLED iPhone rumors swirl, Apple supplier Sharp sinks $864M into display tech

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2017
Foxconn-owned Sharp is reportedly planning to invest 100 billion yen, or about $864 million U.S., into setting up an OLED production line, amidst expectations that Apple's "iPhone 8" will switch from LCD display technology to OLED.


"iPhone 8" concept by Veniamin Geskin.


Production should begin in 2019 at Foxconn's Zhengzhou factory, according to Japan's Nikkei, as quoted by DigiTimes. Since roughly half of all iPhones are produced at that location, the OLED line is believed to be explicitly aimed at selling to Apple.

The investment is larger than the $568 million bet on OLED Sharp has originally announced last September.

In the meantime though, Sharp's OLED efforts are allegedly riding on Sakai Display Products, in which both Sharp and Foxconn chairman Terry Guo are shareholders. SDP has invested 57 billion yen (about $488.9 million U.S.) in a trial OLED production line, which is set to start mass production in 2018. It's not clear how the apparent Zhengzhou line will be affected if the trial experiences problems.

Somewhat cryptically, DigiTimes noted that Foxconn plans to issue a statement to the Taiwan Stock Exchange in response to the rumors.

Foxconn is already Apple's main assembly partner, but will likely be late to the OLED game. The first OLED-equipped iPhones are expected to ship in 2017, using Samsung-made panels.


Concept rendering of next-gen iPhone with edge-to-edge display.


Even if Apple diversifies its display chain in 2018, Foxconn won't be in a position to capitalize.

Apple is believed to be working on three iPhone models for this fall, only one of which will make the leap from LCD to OLED. Often referred to as the "iPhone 8," the device may also have a curved, edge-to-edge display measuring 5.1 or 5.2 inches, plus features like a glass back and wireless charging.

The flagship OLED iPhone is believed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Apple's revolutionary handset. Reports have suggested the design shakeup and switch to OLED will enable Apple to embed key features -- including the FaceTime camera, earpiece and Touch ID fingerprint sensor -- beneath the display, boasting a truly seamless edge-to-edge design.

Other benefits of OLED include potential power savings, particularly if Apple introduces a darker user interface option for iOS. The watchOS interface on Apple Watch features predominantly black backgrounds, taking advantage of the fact that black pixels draw no power.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 6
    thedbathedba Posts: 478member
    Yeah! That seems to be the problem with OLED. No manufacturer can produce them in large enough volumes to satisfy iPhone demand. I would estimate if they were to convert their entire line, they would require around 15 million of them at launch.

    From the beleaguered Note 7, we saw that they had to recall around 2 million of them. May explain why Samsung has 2 different launch dates for its flagship handsets, almost 6 months apart. 

  • Reply 2 of 6
    If Apple figures out how to embed Touch ID invisibly under the display, please bring that to a future Apple Watch.
  • Reply 3 of 6
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,511member
    thedba said:
    Yeah! That seems to be the problem with OLED. No manufacturer can produce them in large enough volumes to satisfy iPhone demand. I would estimate if they were to convert their entire line, they would require around 15 million of them at launch.

    From the beleaguered Note 7, we saw that they had to recall around 2 million of them. May explain why Samsung has 2 different launch dates for its flagship handsets, almost 6 months apart. 

    The display production threshold is, as you say, an ongoing problem, not only for iPhones, but other Apple products.

    For examples: a display bottleneck was a main reason that Apple had to wait an extra year or two to introduce larger iPhone sizes — in that case it was LDPS production; the first iPad mini retina was gimped on color gamut because, one has to assume, because of Apple's inability to source more efficient panels to allow for better backlighting; or, there still seems to be an industry-wide shortage of IGZO production for larger displays,

    It looks like Foxconn and presumably Apple are on an ambitious path to get some control over this situation. Foxconn has invested in Innolux, Sakei and Sharp, and now ranks third behind Samsung and LG in total display production, if those companies' output (at least on paper) are combined.

    This seems like a big deal, getting a Japanese manufacturer under Taiwanese control setting up production in China, all to supply an American client, at least at first. Foxconn is a world-class force.

    .
    welshdog
  • Reply 4 of 6
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,893member
    If Apple figures out how to embed Touch ID invisibly under the display, please bring that to a future Apple Watch.

  • Reply 5 of 6
    This amount of investment is paltry compared to the investments that LG and Samsung have already made in OLED. 

    Perhaps Foxconn is attemting to win the watch business. Winning the iPhone business would seem a long shot with that degree of investment for a product they haven't been successful on while both Samsung and LG are currently producing OLED panels on a large scale. 

    Sharp is going to have to get serious, or get out of the business completely. While LG and Samsung are working feverishly to scale their products and hone their manufacturing processes, sharp has yet to build panels even at a relatively small scale. 
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