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1 Potential Problem for Apple Inc.'s Upcoming OLED iPhone 8

By Ashraf Eassa - Apr 6, 2017 at 1:00PM

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Apple's upcoming OLED iPhone could see a regression in the very area in which it is supposed to leap ahead of its predecessors.

At this point, it's very well known that Apple (AAPL 1.62%) is planning to launch three new iPhone models this year. The first two -- commonly referred to the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus -- are believed to be straightforward upgrades of the current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, respectively. These phones are expected to continue to use liquid crystal displays (LCDs), though perhaps with True Tone functionality.

The third -- the "premium" iPhone -- is expected to rock an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display.

Apple's iPhone 7 in Jet Black with a pair of Apple AirPod wireless earbuds.

Image source: Apple.

OLED displays offer several advantages over traditional LCDs, including "perfect" contrast ratios, the ability to be curved, and much zippier response times.

However, as I noted in a previous column, the LCDs on Apple's current iPhone models still offer some distinct advantages over the OLED display found on Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Galaxy S8. The iPhone 7 LCDs offer superior brightness, color accuracy, gamma, and even viewing angles, per testing performed by display expert, Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate.

The OLED display on the iPhone 8 is expected to be supplied by Samsung, which leads me to wonder the following: How will Apple deliver the advantages of OLED to its customers without regressing in critical areas relative to the current iPhone 7/7 Plus LCDs (which will surely be repurposed in the company's cheaper iPhone 7s/7s Plus)?

Does Apple have its own OLED recipe?

It's no secret that Apple has many display technologists within its ranks, and it's quite possible that whatever OLED display technology makes its way onto its premium iPhone will be differentiated in some way relative to what Samsung ships with its own smartphones, as well as to other potential customers.

Indeed, if we go back to a Bloomberg report that surfaced two years ago, Samsung apparently "created a stand-alone team of about 200 employees working exclusively on screens for Apple Inc. products."

"The team at Samsung Display Co., which provides screens for iPads and MacBooks, helps develop products and is only allowed to share information about Apple business within the group," the report said, citing "people with direct knowledge of the matter."

It's conceivable, then, that Apple and the dedicated team at Samsung display have, together, worked out a display manufacturing recipe that gives Apple the best of both worlds -- the advantages of OLED technology without regression relative to its excellent LCD technology.

Perhaps Apple is willing to make sacrifices

It's also entirely possible that Apple is willing to accept some disadvantages in moving from LCDs to OLEDs in exchange for the improved aesthetics (i.e., full-face display with minimal bezels and infinite contrast ratio).

That would certainly be unfortunate, but it would also be understandable. After all, from a marketing perspective, a full-face OLED display is simply more attractive, so what does it ultimately matter if peak brightness under certain conditions comes down a bit?

Although it would be disappointing to see the display found on the "premium" iPhone regress from the displays found on the iPhone 7/7 Plus in a few ways, I can totally understand the business and marketing reasons for why Apple would make those trade-offs. 

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