The market's warming up to Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED) again. The consumer electronics display specialist is closing in on the all-time highs it set last summer, and it will have a chance to justify the bullish attention that it's been garnering when it reports fresh financials on Thursday afternoon.

We know what analysts are expecting to see out of the patent-rich pioneer of OLED -- short for organic light emitting diode -- technology. They see revenue climbing 10% to $68.6 million for the fourth quarter. Wall Street pros are holding out for a somewhat similar gain on the bottom line, targeting a profit of $0.42 a share after earning $0.39 a share a year earlier.

This may seem like lukewarm growth and a weak revenue haul for a company closing in on a $3.4 billion market cap, but Universal Display's real value rests in its intellectual property. Universal Display owns or has license rights to more than 4,200 issued or pending patents. 

Jars containing Universal Display emitters.

Image source: Universal Display.  

Seeing the light

Universal Display has championed OLED as an energy-efficient lighting source for TVs, monitors, and appliance displays, but the real potential for growth these days lies in mobile. There are already a few smartphones with OLED screens on the market, though for now it's limited mostly to high-end Android devices. That could change if Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) finally embraces the platform, as many expect it to do later this year.

Apple is widely expected to shake things up for this year's smartphone update. This summer will mark 10 years since the original iPhone launched, and signs point to the iPhone 8 or iPhone X shifting to wireless charging, as well as OLED displays. 

OLED offers smartphone makers the ability to extend battery lives and make devices that are leaner and more flexible. The real surprise here is if Apple doesn't make the jump. 

Analysts already see a big jump in revenue and earnings for Universal Display in 2017. They anticipate revenue and earnings per share climbing 27% and 47%, respectively, this year. Universal Display will hopefully shed some light on its near-term prospects, even if it will naturally be tight-lipped on anything that Apple may be up to on the OLED front.

Universal Display's stock is on fire. The shares have soared 28% year to date and are up 51% since bottoming out in October. That's a lot of helium in the stock heading into Thursday's report, but bulls will argue that the potential for OLED -- and Universal Display's role as both a patent holder and distributor of materials -- is just now starting to be tapped.  

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Universal Display. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.