Apple OLED ‘iPhone 8’ Chases Samsung Galaxy S8: How A Display Expert Sees It – Forbes
The iPhone is expected see an overhaul this year. So, how will Apple’s first OLED phone compete with OLED kingpin Samsung. I asked a display expert.
The “iPhone 8” or “iPhone X” — as one Wall Street analyst is now calling it — is expected to be Apple’s first phone with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display. (Note that “X” may refer to 10, as in the 10th anniversary iPhone.)
The OLED component will probably be the single biggest change. Along those lines, I chatted this past week with display expert Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies. If anyone would know how things might unfold this year with the next iPhone, he would. Soneira, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Princeton University, has been a display consultant for all the largest smartphone makers. And they take his advice seriously.
The backdrop of our phone conversation and email exchange was an article he posted at the beginning of this past week, called “The Flagship 2017 OLED Smartphones,” where he spells out scenarios for the OLED iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and Google Pixel.
How dominant is Samsung in OLED smartphone displays? How will that affect Apple?
Soneira: Anyone that’s shipping a smartphone display [this year] is using a Samsung display and that includes the three premium players in western markets. (Referring to Apple, Google, and of course Samsung).
Samsung Display right now has well over 95 percent market share for OLED Smartphone displays, so they are essentially a single source supplier for all manufacturers including Apple. That is very likely to continue for 2017 and possibly 2018 because it will be extremely difficult for any new OLED display manufacturers to deliver high quality OLED displays in volume by then. Samsung’s 2016 production for flexible OLED displays is estimated to be around 150 million panels, most of it for their internal use on Galaxy Smartphones.
How many OLED iPhone models will Apple have?
Soneira: Apple is likely to sell around 250 million iPhones in 2017, so Samsung would need to triple their 2016 flexible OLED production to over 30 million per month in order to be able to meet Apple’s needs if all the new iPhones will have OLED displays. That is very unlikely to happen, so Apple will probably continue with the current LCD models and introduce one or two new premium Flagship iPhones with OLED displays.
Will Apple get the latest and greatest OLEDs from Samsung?
Soneira: One interesting question is how similar or different will the OLED displays be on the iPhone 8 compared to Samsung’s own Galaxy series, including the Galaxy Note8, which should launch about the same time as the iPhone 8. For competitive or production timing reasons the Galaxy OLED displays might be more advanced than the OLED iPhone. We’ll know for sure after our in-depth Display Technology Shoot-Out article series lab tests comparing their display performance in detail.
One way the Galaxy and iPhone OLED displays could be different is if Apple decides to use RGB Stripe Pixels rather than the Diamond Pixels that are used on most Samsung branded devices. Both designs provide important distinct advantages. (See Galaxy Note7 OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out/Diamond Pixels.)
Samsung Display right now has well over 95 percent market share for OLED Smartphone displays, so they are essentially a single source supplier for all manufacturers including Apple. They have been perfecting their OLED technology for well over 5 years, so it is very unlikely that any of the new OLED manufacturers will be capable of matching Samsung’s OLED display quality and performance for a least a couple of years. LG is the only other company that currently produces high quality flexible OLED displays, but only for small watch displays like the Apple Watch.
What will the OLED iPhone X/iPhone 8 look like and how will it perform?
Soneira: Using thin flexible OLEDs instead of LCDs will make it much easier for Apple to modify the overall geometry and form factor of the OLED iPhones, including more than one shape or size. Most Smartphones including the iPhones have been trending to larger sizes, but the new 4 inch iPhone SE shows that Apple also wants to keep offering smaller and easier to carry iPhones as well.
For example, the OLED iPhone 8 could just have the same display screen sizes as the iPhone 7, which would reduce the outer size for both the standard and Plus models by about 1.4 inches in height and 0.35 inches in width because OLEDs can provide an edge-to-edge display without the space needed for an outside rim in the current LCD models.
[And from Soneira’s report:] It seems close to certain that the OLED iPhone 8 will have a curved screen flexible OLED that will be similar to the most recent curved screen Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note7 displays. Not only does Apple have a reputation for including high-end displays on their iPhones, but they also have a patent for curved screen displays.
With a curved screen OLED, the iPhone display will almost certainly be bezel and border free to the outside edges, and fill all or almost all of the entire front view edge-to-edge.
The iPhone 7 Color Gamut has the latest DCI-P3 wide Color Gamut that is also used in 4K TVs, so it seems certain that the iPhone 8 will also have a DCI-P3 Color Gamut like the Galaxy Note7 (and most likely the Galaxy S8). [And] The iPhone 7 has automatic Color Management that accurately reproduces content from any smaller Color Gamuts like sRGB, and that will definitely continue on the iPhone 8.
Apple is just facing facts: OLEDs are on the path to outperform LCDs
What follows are excerpts from Soneira’s written report and my own commentary.
OLEDs haven’t always outperformed LCDs. When they first appeared on smartphones, OLEDs were awful. OLEDs, for example, had serious problems with things like color accuracy. But that’s changing.
“In terms of managing power and brightness, OLEDs can beat the pants off LCD,” Soneira said. And that statement is supported in his report. Smartphone OLEDs are “much thinner, much lighter, with a much smaller bezel providing a near rimless edge-to-edge design [and] they can be made flexible and into curved screens, plus they have a very fast response time, better viewing angles, and an always-on display mode,” wrote Soneira.
LCDs are dependent on “their always-on…backlight…[but with] OLEDs each individual sub-pixel is independently directly electrically powered to emit light, which can provide better color accuracy, image contrast accuracy, and screen uniformity, in addition to incredibly flexible display power management since only the active image sub-pixels draw power based on their individual brightness levels,” Soneira wrote.
The trick is taking full advantage of these characteristics in software and firmware. And that’s going to happen.
Since all of the Smartphone manufacturers will be using the same OLED display in 2017, this is a golden opportunity for Apple to build on their reputation for producing innovative user friendly software. And an opportunity to take advantage of all of the new OLED display’s functions and capabilities. That’s my takeaway after speaking with Soneira.