This year, Apple (AAPL -0.60%) adopted a new type of display technology for the iPhone X called organic light-emitting diode, or OLED. OLED displays have some significant advantages over traditional liquid crystal displays (LCDs), such as much better contrast ratios and substantially faster pixel response times.
One big disadvantage to using such displays, though, is that only Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) can build panels good enough to meet Apple's stringent quality and performance requirements. This means that Apple has far less negotiating power when trying to procure OLED displays than it does when it's trying to sign supply agreements for LCDs.
It's highly likely, then, that Apple desperately wants more sources for OLED displays.
According to a new report from Korean publication etnews, a potential second source supplier of OLED displays is knocking on Apple's door.
China's BOE gunning to win Apple orders
The report says that China-based display manufacturer BOE Technology Group is looking to build production lines dedicated solely to building OLED displays for Apple. Moreover, the report claims that BOE executives "recently visited Apple and shared such a business plan."
However, it's also apparently far from certain whether BOE will be able to land those orders. The publication explains that for a company to be chosen as an Apple supplier, that company "needs to apply equipment and method of technologies requested by Apple." Additionally, a prospective supplier needs to undergo a "lengthy process where it needs to produce a sample that needs to go through many performance and quality tests and pass final standards."
In other words: While Apple certainly wants to add more OLED vendors to its stable of suppliers to increase its negotiating power, reduce risk, and ultimately lower its acquisition costs, it's not going to do so at the expense of quality.
Those suppliers need to be able to build displays up to the high standards that Apple has for its devices.
Does BOE stand a chance?
I think BOE's chances of winning Apple's business are very good. I base this assessment on a recent review of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro smartphone, which includes a 6.0-inch OLED panel manufactured by BOE.
The display performs quite well in testing performed by NotebookCheck.net. Brightness is quite high (higher than that of the iPhone X's display at that), the brightness distribution is excellent (the same as the one on the iPhone X), and the display is extremely color accurate (though not as accurate as that on the iPhone X).
In fact, the only area where the BOE-built display on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro seems to dramatically lag the display on the iPhone X is in pixel response time -- the iPhone X's display has substantially quicker pixel response times.
The iPhone X clearly has the better display, but I'd imagine that if Apple were willing to work with BOE to co-engineer displays up to its standards and, perhaps more importantly, to keep up with what is probably an aggressive roadmap of OLED displays for future iPhones, BOE could have a real shot at becoming a second source to Samsung Display for future OLED iPhones.
Ideally, if Apple can bring BOE, LG Display -- a company that's rumored to be working hard to supply OLEDs to Apple -- and even current Apple LCD supplier Japan Display on board for OLED supply, Samsung won't have nearly the pricing power that it does over Apple right now.
Loosening Samsung's grip on display pricing power should ultimately allow Apple to proliferate OLED displays across a wider range of devices and price points.