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Next iPhone Has Thinner Screen

Published: July 17, 2012 | 11:40 am
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HONG KONG—Apple Inc.’s next iPhone, currently being manufactured by Asian component makers, will use a new technology that makes the smartphone’s screen thinner, people familiar with the matter said, as the U.S. technology giant strives to improve technological features amid intensifying competition from Samsung Electronics Co. and other rivals.

Japanese liquid-crystal-display makers Sharp Corp. and Japan Display Inc.—a new company that combined three Japanese electronics makers’ display units—as well as South Korea’s LG Display Co. are currently mass producing panels for the next iPhone using so-called in-cell technology, the people said.

The technology integrates touch sensors into the LCD, making it unnecessary to have a separate touch-screen layer. The absence of the layer, usually about half a millimeter thick, not only makes the whole screen thinner, but the quality of displayed images would improve, said DisplaySearch analyst Hiroshi Hayase.

For Apple, the new technology would also simplify the supply chain and help cut costs as it would no longer have to buy touch panels and LCD panels from separate suppliers.

Technological progress at LCD makers such as Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display is crucial for Apple, given that Samsung has been pushing its organic light-emitting displays as one of the unique features of its Galaxy phones. Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S III, comes with a 4.8-inch OLED screen and is thinner than the current iPhone.

The vast majority of OLED screens used in mobile devices today are supplied by Samsung. OLED screens, which don’t require backlighting, tend to be thinner than conventional LCD panels.

While Apple and Samsung together dominate the lucrative market for high-end smartphones, the companies are under constant pressure to meet high expectations for more-powerful, capable devices that are easier to carry.

A thinner screen in the next iPhone could make the whole device slimmer, or make extra room available for other components such as batteries. But in-cell touch screens are harder to manufacture than conventional LCD screens. The people familiar with the situation said that LCD makers are finding the manufacturing process challenging and time-consuming as they scramble to achieve high yield rates.

Analysts have said that the new iPhone is expected sometime in the fall.

In May, people familiar with the matter said that the new iPhone will likely come with a screen larger than the current iPhone’s 3.5-inch display. A thinner screen could help offset an increase in weight due to the larger size.

For LCD panel makers like Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display, Apple’s iPhone provides the environment where they can demonstrate their latest technological progress to show that LCD screens can continue to evolve and stay competitive against OLED displays. In the meantime, Sharp, Japan Display and LG Display have also been developing OLED displays.

At the same time, the adoption of in-cell technology is bad news for makers of conventional touch panels used in many smartphone screens now. Taiwan’s Wintek Corp. and TPK Holding Co., which supplied the touch-panel layer of the iPhone 4S screen, didn’t get orders for the next iPhone, people familiar with the situation said.


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