The production of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays has finally reached volumes where it is driving growth of the small to mid-sized screen market, according to IHS iSuppli. Small to mid-sized displays (SMD) are those with a diagonal measurement of 10 inches or less.
As demand and prices of LCDs have dropped, display makers are turning toward higher-priced, higher-value technologies such as OLED. One of the issues that has been holding OLED back has been production volumes. “Display manufacturers are increasing their AMOLED manufacturing, making the new technology more available and allowing it to proliferate across a range of smartphone models from various brands,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, director for small and medium displays at HIS, in a press release.
Overall, according to IHS iSuppli, “total shipments of SMDs used in products including mobile handsets, tablets, and digital still cameras reached 186.8 million units in February, up 9 percent from 171.3 million units in January.” Worldwide shipments of AMOLED mobile handset displays are expected to increase by 14 percent in Q1 2012 compared with Q4 2011, and by 80 percent compared to the same time a year ago.
However, a lack of competition in the OLED market keeps prices high. There are still few major players in OLED. Samsung Mobile Display Co., a division separate from the recently formed Samsung Display, has the largest OLED manufacturing capacity, according to IHS iSuppli:
- The company’s main competitor is LG Display Co., although LG Display recently redirected its AMOLED focus away from mobile handsets toward the TV market. Meanwhile, Taiwanese and Chinese suppliers are working to improve their competitive positioning in hopes of catching up with Samsung and LG in AMOLED production. Taiwanese supplier AU Optronics Corp. is making particularly strong progress, with likely orders from handset manufacturer HTC and Sony. AU Optronics is expected to start shipping small volumes of AMOLED displays starting in the second quarter, and is apparently planning for AMOLED production at a sixth-generation fab. Fellow Taiwanese manufacturer ChiMei Innolux Corp. is also anticipated to start AMOLED panel production sometime this year. All told, Taiwan’s success in the AMOLED display market will be dependent on the capability of its suppliers to obtain orders from top-tier smartphone makers like Nokia, HTC and Sony.
In the meantime, OLED prices are increasing instead of falling. In mobile phones, OLEDs command prices of between $51 and $54, IHS iSuppli reports, with a comparable LCD priced around $42.