Historically, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has updated the displays on its iPhone lineup every two generations. Every "new number" iPhone would get a best-in-class, state-of-the-art display, which would then be recycled in the following year's "s" model, where it would still be quite good, but no longer class-leading.
However, I believe that going forward, this practice -- largely because of Apple's ability to more aggressively invest in developing and implementing new generation display technologies -- will come to an end. Instead, I expect Apple to implement meaningful display performance and quality enhancements with each new iPhone, at least over the next three years.
With that in mind, I'd like to outline the display innovations that I expect Apple to bring to market with each of these next three iPhones.
iPhone 8 brings us OLEDs
It's been widely reported that Apple plans to move away from liquid crystal displays (LCDs) to displays implementing organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). The shift from LCDs to OLEDs is expected to allow Apple to offer phones with displays that curve into the sides, like what the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Note7 currently sport.
Indeed, numerous reports say that Apple is planning to do just that with its next-gen iPhones. In addition to the curved displays, OLEDs should dramatically enhance the quality of dark content, particularly as OLEDs allow for virtually perfect black levels, unlike with LCDs, where the color black doesn't look perfectly black, particularly in low-light surroundings.
However, the display innovation won't end with the move to OLEDs.
Next step? Faster OLEDs
With next year's iPad lineup, Apple is expected to introduce a "faster display technology," according to Bloomberg. I don't think Apple will try to move to a high-refresh-rate display with the 2017 iPhone, as the company will have had enough on its plate working with its display manufacturing partners to get its first crack at a smartphone-class OLED correct.
However, KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo reported a little while back that Apple may transition to a curved OLED display for its 2018 iPad lineup. Since Apple won't be able to "go back" with respect to refresh rates, this means that Apple is planning to introduce high-refresh rate curved OLED panels with the iPads that we'll see in the spring of 2018.
Given that tablet displays are likely more difficult to produce, as they're larger and more susceptible to defects, if Apple has high-refresh curved OLEDs ready for early 2018 iPads, they should certainly be ready to go for fall-2018 iPhones.
After that? Maybe micro-LEDs
Back in 2014, Apple acquired a company called LuxVue that was working on a technology called micro-LEDs. In a nutshell, micro-LEDs are said to offer several advantages over OLEDs, including higher brightness, greater power efficiency, and longer lifespans.
A report from Digitimes suggested that Apple may use micro-LEDs in the Apple Watch that's expected to make its debut during the second half of 2017. If Apple can do that, then the technology could very well be scaled up to support the larger display size of the iPhone for the second half of 2019.
What does this mean for iPhone?
At the end of the day, the display is a critical part of the user experience in a smartphone. Going forward, it's going to become increasingly difficult to persuade users to upgrade to new smartphones, particularly if their current models seem "good enough."
By innovating aggressively on display technology, Apple will at least be able to make improvements to future iPhones that potential customers can see with their own eyes. This could ultimately help Apple maintain or even grow iPhone sales over the next couple of years, even in the face of a slowing smartphone industry coupled with heightened competitive pressures.