AMOLEDs Propel Growth of Small/Medium Display Market
After years of development, the market for active matrix organic light-emitting diodes (AMOLEDs) is moving into higher volumes, with shipments of the advanced screens to smartphones rising to a level where they can drive the growth of the entire small- and medium-sized display (SMD) market in February.
Total shipments of SMD panels 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, according to an IHS iSuppli report. The increase brought to an end four straight months of shipment declines that started in October 2011. IHS defines SMDs as displays sized smaller than 10 inches diagonally.
A rise in demand for AMOLED displays, coupled with increased orders from Chinese vendors, helped prevent what could have been a decline in shipments for the overall SMD market during a traditionally slow month for the market. AMOLED displays, lighter in weight and featuring more saturated colors compared to traditional LCD panels, have been gaining popularity in smartphones, with companies like Samsung Electronics, Nokia and HTC all selling mobile handsets that feature AMOLED displays.
Worldwide shipments of AMOLED mobile handset displays are expected to increase sequentially by 14 percent in the first quarter of this year and by 80 percent compared to the same time a year ago.
The displays are set to gain further traction in the SMD space this year as the panels are adopted by other applications, like tablet PCs.
"Long considered a nascent technology, AMOLED is coming of age in 2012, with strong demand for the display from Android-based smartphones helping to drive the growth of the overall LCD-dominated SMD market," said Vinita Jakhanwal, director for small & medium displays at IHS. "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."
Samsung leads the AMOLED race
Samsung Mobile Display currently drives the AMOLED market, because it has the largest manufacturing capacity. The company's main competitor is LG Display, 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 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 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.
AMOLED prices rise along with specifications
In mobile phones, AMOLED prices increased 0.9 percent to an average of $54 in February, due to the introduction of new higher-specification AMOLED displays. A price premium of 15 to 20 percent is still commanded by AMOLED displays over comparable low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS) LCD displays with touch capabilities. For example, a 4.3-inch QHD "Super" AMOLED display for mobile phones with an integrated on-cell touch solution, boasting QHD resolution at 960 by 540 pixels, was priced at $51 in January.
Meanwhile, a comparable LTPS LCD plus projected capacitive touch solution together had a total price of $42. The current limited supply of AMOLEDs -- along with the distinct advantage of the on-cell touch solution provided by Super AMOLED displays -- is helping AMOLEDs maintain their price premium in the market.
In tablets, total average panel prices retreated 0.4 percent to reach $48.87, down from the January average of $49.06. AMOLED tablet displays, meanwhile, stayed at about $100. LG and Samsung remain the pre-eminent suppliers for the tablet PC display market -- their dominance due to high capacity and their capability to provide reliable shipments to Apple for its iPad, to Amazon for its Kindle, and to Samsung Electronics for its Galaxy Tab.