Soon it will be AMOLED or nothing in the flagship arena and gradually that will flow down to the premium segment. If ZTE can produce the excellent Axon 7 with a 5.5”, QHD, 2560 x 1440, AMOLED screen supporting Google Daydream VR for $599 the pressure will be on in that market too.
Witsview, a division of Trendforce, says AMOLED will be standard on at least 50% of smartphone models by 2020. The biggest issue has been supply, with SDC just starting to produce enough for other makers like Apple and ZTE.
AMOLED’s very low energy requirements, high resolution and colour, pure black, HDR, and VR capability will drive sales and other panel makers are gearing up quickly.
Later in 2016, the much larger Chinese panel suppliers BOE Technology (BOE) and Tianma also made the switch from the production of LTPS LCD panels to ramping up of their AMOLED capacity. They both altered their fab plans, turning newly built facilities initially reserved for LTPS panel production into AMOLED panel fabs. Once the two major panel suppliers finish installing equipment at their respective AMOLED fabs, they will begin trial production sometimes in the second half of this year.
“Apple’s move has been closely watched by its competitors,” said Boyce Fan, research director of WitsView. “The reveal of the next iPhone’s specifications has accelerated the deployment of AMOLED displays for other smartphone brands. Panel makers, especially those from China, are hastily building up their AMOLED manufacturing capacity as well.”
Witsview says the limited supply of processing equipment and technological hurdles are challenges that later market entrants must overcome.
Chinese panel makers will rapidly build more AMOLED panel fabs in the near term. Costs will not be a significant issue for them because the domestic market has plenty of capital and the government supports the development of new display technologies.
On the other hand, AMOLED manufacturing has several difficult technological barriers. In addition to having perfected the backplane production, prospective suppliers must improve other highly complicated manufacturing processes such as the deposition of the organic layer and encapsulation.
The evaporation equipment, for example, is still provided by Japanese and South Korean companies.
Currently, the Gen-6 half-cut machine made by Canon’s subsidiary Tokki is the most in-demand evaporation system on the market. However, Tokki’s equipment is also very limited in terms of market supply because Tokki’s priority customer is SDC and by extension Apple.
Over the past three years, SDC has practically monopolised the market for small-size AMOLED displays. Some smartphone makers are wary of being locked into a single supplier for this type of technology and are encouraging competing panel manufacturers to catch up.
Besides the activities of Chinese panel companies, South Korea’s LG Display (LGD) will also begin mass production of flexible AMOLED panels from a Gen-6 fab in the second half of this year. This is an important milestone, says WitsView, because the market will become more competitive with LGD’s entry and eventually open to other suppliers. The initial shipments of AMOLED smartphone panels from LGD are expected to be for non-Apple customers.