Samsung Display and LG Display are set to supply OLED displays to Apple for its upcoming new iPhone. It is reported that BOE, which became part of Apple’s supply chain for the first time last year, has yet to receive an official approval from Apple. Although Chinese display manufacturers are fiercely chasing after South Korean companies, South Korean companies continue to distance themselves by continuing to upgrade their technologies.
According to the industry on Wednesday, it has been confirmed that Samsung Display and LG Display will supply their flexible OLEDs to Apple for the iPhone 13 (tentative name) that is set to be released this fall.
Just like the iPhone 12 series, the iPhone 13 series will also be made up of two pro models and two regular models. The two pro models will be available in 6.7 and 6.1-inch displays while the regular models will offer 6.1 and 5.4-inch displays.
Samsung Display will be the only supplier of 6.7 and 6.1-inch flexible OLEDs that will be used for the pro models. The panels that will be used for the regular models will be split between Samsung Display and LG Display. It is estimated that Samsung Display will supply anywhere between 120 million and 130 million flexible OLEDs for one year starting from the iPhone 13’s release date while LG Display will supply about 50 million panels.
Samsung Display has been the main OLED display supplier of Apple since 2017 when Apple released its first model (iPhone X) equipped with OLED display. It is reported that Samsung Display has also secured the most supply of flexible OLEDs for Apple’s next iPhone. LG Display is gradually supplying more flexible OLEDs as it will supply 20 million more panels for the iPhone 13 than the time it supplied panels for the iPhone 12.
It is reported that BOE, which had been drawing attention, has yet to receive an approval from Apple regarding supplying flexible OLED panels for the iPhone 13. BOE entered Apple’s iPhone supply chain for the first time at the end of last year and put South Korea’s display industry in a state of tension. Because supply of OLED panels by BOE indicates development of display technologies by Chinese display manufacturers, BOE entering Apple’s supply chain has placed a concern on the South Korean industry. However, it is expected that a significant technological gap between South Korean companies and Chinese companies is expected to be maintained for a while as Samsung Display and LG Display continue to lead supply of OLED panels for Apple’s upcoming iPhone.

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<OLED production line (Source: Samsung Display)>

New iPhones are normally released in October. Parts and materials are usually mass-produced in second quarter while finished products are mass-produced in third quarter before they are ready to be sold to consumers. Because May is normally a time when the supply chain of parts and materials such as OLED, cameras, and battery that will go into the iPhone 13 is completed, it is expected that BOE will only be able to secure a minimal supply of OLED panels even if it makes another attempt to receive an approval and actually receives one from Apple.
Technological gap is likely the main reason why Samsung Display and LG Display received approvals while BOE did not. Apple plans to use touch-integrated OLEDs for entire models of the iPhone 13 for the first time. Touch-integrated OLED is an OLED panel that has touch input built in. Because such OLED does not require a separate touch sensor, it is able to make displays much thinner and improve production cost.
It is likely that advanced production capabilities by Samsung Display and LG Display have satisfied Apple’s plan to expand touch-integrated OLED panels to entire models of the iPhone 13. Samsung Display was the only one that supplied touch-integrated OLEDs for the iPhone 12. However, it is likely that Apple has also included LG Display to be another supplier of touch-integrated OLEDs as it looks to apply touch-integrated OLEDs to entire models of the iPhone 13.
This is the reason why Samsung Display is the only flexible OLED supplier for the two pro models of the iPhone 13. Apple has planned to use OLEDs that have a refresh rate of 120Hz for the two pro models. Refresh rate indicates number of frames that appears on a display in one second. Higher refresh rate allows dynamic screens to be displayed more smoothly.
However, higher refresh rate requires more power. In order to offset this, low-power display driver technology is a must.
A representative from the display industry said that South Korean companies show that there is still a significant gap between themselves and Chinese companies when it comes to advanced OLED technologies even when Chinese companies are chasing after South Korean companies. ‘LTPO-TFT (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide thin-film transistor)’ technology is applied to OLED panels that will be used for the two pro models for the first time. Because Samsung Display is far ahead of anyone else when it comes to the technology, it has been able to secure entire supplies of OLED panels that will be used for the two pro models. Samsung Display became the first in the industry to commercialize LTPO OLEDs that were used for the Galaxy Note 20 that was released last year and it has been improving and upgrading the technology since. Touch-integrated OLED technology and LTPO technology have acted as entry barriers for OLED.
iPhone is one of the most popular smartphones in the world, and Apple sells about 200 million iPhones annually. As Samsung Display and LG Display become responsible for supply of OLEDs for the iPhone 13, South Korea’s materials and parts industries are also expected to be benefit.
Samsung Electronics’ System LSI Business and Silicon Works supply DDIs (display driver IC) to Samsung Display and LG Display respectively. BH and Duksan Neolux supply circuit boards for displays and OLED materials respectively.
Meanwhile, companies such as Samsung Display, LG Display, and Silicon Works that are related to Apple’s OLED situation said that they cannot confirm any information related to their customer.
Staff Reporter Yun, Geonil |