This year, Apple (AAPL 1.56%) is expected to use OLED displays in its highest-end iPhone model, marking a shift away from liquid crystal display, or LCD, technology. OLEDs offer several big advantages over LCDs in image quality, power consumption (at least in some cases), pixel response times, and flexibility of device form factors.
Apple's recently released 10.5-inch iPad Pro, as well as the updated 12.9-inch iPad Pro, once again make use of liquid-crystal displays. In addition to what appear to be some image-quality enhancements based on a side-by-side comparison of the new and old models, the new iPad Pro models also include displays that can refresh their contents 120 times per second (120 Hz). That's a doubling of the refresh rate of the display found on all previous iPad models, which makes for a much smoother user experience.
Although it's quite impressive that Apple and its display-manufacturing partners have managed to put together such a high-quality, fast, and low-power LCD suitable for an extremely thin-and-light tablet, I believe that it's the end of the line for LCDs in Apple's iPad Pro lineup. Here's why.
The iPad Pro display has an Achilles' heel
The displays on the new iPad Pro models are large, sharp, fast, gorgeous, and power efficient. However, per some test results from NotebookCheck.net, the displays do have an Achilles' heel: pixel response time. The combined rise-and-fall pixel response time in going from black to white on the display is 17.6 milliseconds, per the review.
"The screen shows good response rates in our tests, but may be too slow for competitive gamers," the review reads. Gray-to-gray response time (combined rise and fall) comes in at 39.6 milliseconds, per NotebookCheck.net. "The screen shows slow response rates in our tests and will be unsatisfactory for gamers," the site says.
Apple has big, beautiful displays that can update their contents quickly on its new iPad Pro models, but pixel response times are rather high. Slow pixel response times, NotebookCheck.net explains, "can lead to afterimages and can cause moving objects to appear blurry (ghosting)."
To add an anecdotal perspective, I noticed such "ghosting" when I spent some time with the new iPad Pro at my local retail stores on several occasions.
The solution is OLED
The review of the Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Galaxy S8 phone published by NotebookCheck.net includes some pixel-response-time measurements. The Galaxy S8, of course, uses an OLED-based display.
Those tests revealed very fast pixel response times. Black-to-white response time on the Galaxy S8's display (combined rise-and-fall values) came in at just 3.2 milliseconds. The gray-to-gray response time (again, combined rise and fall) was just 5.6 milliseconds in the review. OLED-based displays appear to be able to offer dramatically faster pixel response times, something that would greatly benefit a future iPad Pro model, especially considering that display "speed" appears to be increasingly important to Apple.
In moving from an LCD to an OLED-based display, Apple should not only deliver a dramatic improvement in pixel response times (and thus, user experience), but the "perfect" contrast and the potential for more aggressive/interesting form factors that OLED displays enable -- e.g. curved displays -- should help, too.
This year's iPad Pro models are great pieces of engineering, but next year's models promise to be truly stunning -- or as KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo described it last summer -- "revolutionary."