OLED overtake

Apple has invited customers to ‘Say hello to the future’ with its new iPhone X. From the tech specs, it’s clear that next generation devices are going to be reliant on OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays.

According to Steve Kelly, CEO of semiconductor experts SmartKem, the shift to OLED for the iPhone X is symbolic of a much wider change in displays across the portable and wearable device industry.

For the best part of a decade, Apple has relied on liquid crystal display (LCD) technology for its iconic iPhone devices. But with the X, Apple has moved to a higher performance OLED display. The change was by no means unexpected: OLED offers several fundamental advantages over LCD. LCDs typically demand more power and more space due to the requirement for a backlight, while OLED unlocks more innovation potential.

Kelly commented: “The time of OLED has arrived. The Apple X was launched to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Apple iPhones. By choosing such a landmark device to move to OLED, Apple is showing how tech giants like itself are committed to embracing this technology long-term.”

SmartKem is the leading supplier of organic semiconductor materials that enable the manufacture of organic thin-film transistor (OTFT) arrays for use in electronic displays.

SmartKem’s revolutionary truFLEX® semiconductor materials offer such complementary compatibility with OLED technology that it is possible to manufacture displays on plastic, rather than glass. This creates huge benefits for display-makers as plastic displays are unbreakable, lighter and more ergonomic. Furthermore, SmartKem’s unique materials enable potential power savings of up to 70{f31f6ecffb34375fd9f87a98429f445e701cb826ab1a6f6cc611dc3cd2aec2bf}, hugely increasing the time a device can be used and worn between charging.

Kelly said: “In the iPhone X the screen truly takes centre stage and there are two fundamental shifts we can see when it comes to the display.

“The first is the adoption of OLED. This shows that OLED has moved to the mainstream as the technology of choice, which is of course great news for technical innovators like ourselves.

“The second is transferring to a model which is ‘entirely screen’ at the front. In Apple’s words this creates an experience ‘so immersive the device itself disappears into the experience’. This shows how much impact a high-tech, high-spec display can have on end-user satisfaction. And as more and more devices move to a full screen approach it’s clear that displays will need to become more robust and less heavy – and that’s where we come in.”

Because SmartKem’s technology enables unbreakable, lightweight displays, Mr Kelly is predicting a further acceleration in adoption of its technology, which is already incorporated into a number of Asian display production lines. In the longer-term, SmartKem’s technology will also fuel a rise in conformal (flexible) displays – a major device differentiator that will re-invigorate the saturated smartphone market.

“We’re ideally placed to capitalise on the move to OLED and new form function displays,” said Kelly.

In the interim, it’s not only Apple that is driving OLED adoption.

“Samsung is reportedly the only supplier of OLED displays to Apple and continues this commitment to OLED in its own electronic devices. We’ve recently had the exciting confirmation that Samsung aims to release a foldable phone with a bendable OLED display next year,” said Kelly.

“Samsung has long been committed to OLED, incorporating AMOLED (active matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays into its Galaxy device series. But by publicly announcing the intention to use OLED as the foundation of an entirely new form of phone, they have demonstrated the commitment of the biggest players to OLED. The industry realises that OLED enables truly groundbreaking possibilities for both the form and function of portable and wearable devices.”

Aside from Apple and Samsung, several new competitor phone models also use OLED screens. This shows how sharper, more battery-efficient OLED technology is being seen as a valuable point of difference in consumer electronic products today.

SmartKem is well-versed in OLED adoption in Asia – the global hub of display production – through its partnerships.

Mr Kelly said: “Our own technology adoption programme in Asia, coupled with major regional investment such as the $7 billion pledged by LG to up OLED output, has shown us the huge appetite for OLED.

“It’s by no means all over for LCD,” said Mr Kelly. “But it’s clear that OLED is the technology opening up the most opportunities. That’s great news for SmartKem, and great news for end users too.”