When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, it explicitly said the liquid crystal displays used in the devices were "new."

At the time, I said I was skeptical that the displays were new. Of course, Apple did add a new technology that it dubs True Tone that allows the displays on the phones to adjust color temperature and brightness based on the ambient lighting of their surroundings.

This technology, as I've written recently, really is a game changer and easily one of my favorite features of the iPhone 8 Plus. It dramatically improves the effective display quality and is a feature that, once seen, can't be unseen.

Apple's iPhone 8 Plus on the left and its iPhone 8 on the right.

Image source: Apple.

However, thanks to some new test results from NotebookCheck.net, it appears that the display panels themselves aren't new at all -- they're basically the same ones found on the prior-generation iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Here's the proof.

The proof is in the display performance

According to NotebookCheck's testing, the display on the iPhone 8 Plus performs no better than the display on the prior-generation iPhone 7 Plus.

In fact, NotebookCheck's numbers show slight regressions in brightness, contrast, grayscale accuracy, gamma performance, and white point accuracy compared with the results exhibited by the site's iPhone 7 Plus test sample.

The only area in which the iPhone 8 Plus's display pulls ahead of the iPhone 7 Plus' is in color accuracy, but the displays are both so color accurate and the difference between them so negligible, it's essentially a wash.

Now, to be clear, I don't think Apple simply made "new but worse" displays for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Instead, what NotebookCheck's results show is that the differences in display performance between the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus essentially come down to standard manufacturing variance.

Is this dishonest marketing?

On one hand, I wouldn't feel right giving Apple's marketing department too much flak for its use of the word "new." The True Tone display functionality does improve the user experience far more tangibly than slightly more color accurate or slightly brighter displays would've done, particularly since the displays on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were already nothing short of excellent.

On the other, I don't think the use of the word "new" in conjunction with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus displays is totally honest, either.

To Apple's credit, the company doesn't make any false claims with respect to key specifications of the displays on these devices. On Apple's website, the company quotes the same peak brightness levels and contrast ratio ratings that it did for the prior-generation iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

If Apple wanted to have been truly transparent, though, it should've said something along the lines of "We've taken our Retina HD displays, which are renowned for their brightness and color accuracy, and we've added a feature that we know you won't want to live without -- our True Tone technology."

An economic silver lining

Though it's disappointing that Apple didn't build better display panels for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, there is a silver lining to recycling what are essentially the same panels from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus: cost. 

The displays on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were truly new when they were introduced; they delivered much higher brightness than their predecessors, industry-leading color accuracy, and support for wide-color. 

I suspect that at first, those displays were relatively expensive to manufacture, as is often the case with new technologies, but over the course of the iPhone 7-series cycle, manufacturing costs came down. 

Those lower costs probably allowed Apple to add features such as wireless charging, glass backs, and improved cameras to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus without significantly increasing its own costs or the prices it asks for them. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.