Apple could use flexible LCD displays in future iPhones

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iPhone 7
iPhone's switch to OLED could be temporary.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple supplier Japan Display has found a way to reduce the cost of flexible displays by swapping OLED panels for LCD. The company plans to start mass producing its new screens in 2018, and they’re likely to appear in future iPhones.

Samsung can be credited with popularizing curved displays with its “edge” smartphones. They were initially seen as a gimmick, but in recent years they’ve become incredibly popular, with the curvy Galaxy S7 edge outselling its flatter, more affordable sibling last year.

Apple is planning to adopt a similar design for this year’s big iPhone 8 refresh, according to recent rumors. The move will mean it has to swap its familiar LCD panels — which it has used in every iPhone since the original — for flexible OLED displays.

But it may not be a permanent switch. The Wall Street Journal reports that Japan Display, which has been supplying Apple with LCD panels for some time, has been able to create flexible LCD displays by replacing their glass layers with plastic.

They’re not as flexible as their OLED counterparts, but according to Shuji Aruga, Japan Display’s CEO, they are flexible enough to be used in devices like the Galaxy S7 edge. What’s more, Japan Display has confirmed it already has customers lined up for them.

“Mass production is planned from 2018, and we wouldn’t do that without demand from our clients,” said Aruga.

The big advantage LCD has over OLED is that it’s more affordable — especially for makers like Japan Display, which don’t have existing OLED production facilities and would have to invest millions into building them.

But while that may attract Apple and other smartphone vendors, it won’t convince consumers who are aware of the benefits of OLED, like greater picture quality and increased efficiency.