I know, I know. These OLED iPhone rumors have been circling for as long as most of us can remember. But maybe, just maybe, they might actually come true this time. The latest buzz comes from the Chinese division of Japan's Nikkei news, which reports that Apple is accelerating its OLED iPhone plans and is now on track to launch the device in 2017.
Party like it's 2017
If true, that's right on the horizon. Apple was previously said to be targeting a 2018 or 2019 launch for an OLED iPhone. Reports from December had indicated that Apple was pushing its display suppliers to prepare for a 2018 launch of OLED displays. Both LG Display and Samsung were already beginning to invest a combined $13 billion in capacity expansion, considering Apple's volume requirements.
Apple has held off quite a while due to some limitations around OLED technology (which Tim Cook was kind enough to elaborate on a few years back), but Apple has seemingly overcome those hurdles now and OLED is capable of meeting the Mac maker's stringent quality standards. Including an OLED display in Apple Watch was an extremely important piece of evidence in this department.
Samsung takes the display lead
Just a couple weeks ago, Samsung unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S7. Samsung has been a long-standing proponent of OLEDs, having investing vast sums over the years in the technology, and it has a long list of improvements to show for it. As expected, the Galaxy S7 also included an OLED display.
While in prior years, Samsung OLED displays were grossly oversaturated and featured the characteristic blue tint, the Galaxy S7 and the S7 Edge are impressive technical feats. DisplayMate even went as far as to call it the best smartphone display ever. Note that DisplayMate is quite objective. The company awarded that same distinction to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014, only to give it to Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 in 2015. DisplayMate similarly called the iPad Mini 4's display the best tablet display ever. It goes without saying that Apple and Samsung overall are neck-and-neck in the display technology race.
The difference in performance this year was even enough to win over technically oriented fellow Fool Ashraf Eassa, who is ditching his iPhone 6s Plus in favor of one of Samsung's new handsets. Beyond technical benefits, there are now strong competitive reasons to really take OLEDs seriously, which could be why Apple is reportedly pulling its timeline in by a year.
Sooner or later
In no uncertain terms, an Apple adoption of OLED would be a huge windfall for Universal Display. Samsung and LG have long been Universal Display's largest customers, but Apple comprises such a huge chunk of the smartphone market that both the licensing business and materials business would enjoy meaningful upside. Fellow Fool Steve Symington will fill you in on the latest quarter here.
It won't happen this year, but an OLED iPhone might actually see the light of day next year.
Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Universal Display. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.