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When Will the Incredible OLED Shortage End?

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So you want an Droid Incredible smartphone, but Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) keeps pushing the delivery date back week by week because the OLED screen is in short supply. Order an Incredible today, and then sit on your hands until June 16.

That's the simple reality of OLED technology today. Leading manufacturers Samsung Mobile Display and LG Display (NYSE: LPL  ) simply can't make enough smartphone screens to keep up with demand. Industry insiders reported Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) thought about active matrix OLED (AMOLED) displays for the next-generation iPhone but quickly realized that nobody could deliver enough screens. Samsung could pour its entire AMOLED output into iPhones and still only meet about half of Apple's needs, according to Digitimes Research analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

But that will change in short order. Samsung is investing $2.2 billion in a next-generation OLED factory and has plans to go even further. Speaking at the Display Week conference in Seattle this week, Samsung Display's Chief Technical Officer Sang-Soo Kim gave some perspective to just how fast the manufacturing capacity is building out.

OLED screens are still mostly confined to handheld devices, because small screens are both simpler and cheaper to produce -- and every OLED panel yields lots of small-screen units. Shipping 45 million mobile displays this year, the OLED suppliers are reaching for an 8% market share. In 2015, we should see 600 million mobile units and better than 50% market penetration -- and on top of that, Kim predicts that OLED will also become the leading large-screen TV technology by then.

These are lofty goals for sure, but remember that these are still early days in the history of OLED. Commercialization is kicking in after just 10 years of development, much to the delight of technology providers Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) and DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , which blows the 30-year commercial ramp for LCD screen outs of the water. Meanwhile, Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) is working on rollable full-color screens and Samsung is showing off transparent displays meant for laptops and car windshields. Then there's the lighting market to consider. The fun never ends.

This all sounds very fanciful and expensive today, but the manufacturing technology involved in making OLED screens is a close cousin to inkjet printing and will add up to massive cost savings when economies of scale kick in.

So the shortages will end, but not tomorrow. When you see a fancy new smartphone with an OLED screen, you can rest assured that neither gadget designer nor service provider expects to sell millions of it. They can't make 'em that fast, you see. The Incredible is too good for its own good.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Universal Display, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Universal Display is a longtime Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple is a fresh-faced Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (7)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2010, at 5:27 PM, mattack2 wrote:

    The Tivo Series 3 has a (tiny) OLED screen on it, and it was released September 12, 2006.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2010, at 7:38 PM, MegaEurope wrote:

    I wouldn't guess PANL is delighted from their earnings statements. Because so far business is terrible.

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