2021 iPhones could take advantage of power-saving Apple Watch display tech

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2020 iPhone 12 concept has a 99% screen to body ratio.
2021 iPhone could adopt new LTPO backplane technology.
Screenshot: Pallav Raj/ConceptsiPhone

The iPhone 12 isn’t out yet, but already the supply chain is working to develop new OLED screens for next year’s premium iPhones, according to a Friday report from Digitimes.

The screens reportedly will be made with a special low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) backplane technology. This could allow Apple to offer screens with a more dynamic refresh rate that consumed less power.

LTPO technology debuted on Apple Watch Series 5

Apple debuted its LTPO technology with the Apple Watch Series 5. The tech enables the smartwatch’s always-on display, a big advance over earlier Apple Watches, which only lit up when activated.

In an informative article for PC World, writer Fergus Halliday described the advantages of LTPO displays:

“Basically, normal LCD and OLED displays rely on low-temperature polycrystalline silicon (LTPS) thin-film-transistors (TFTs) when it comes to the construction of the backplane … However, the LTPO display tech found in the new Apple Watch opts for a mix of both LTPS TFTs and Oxide TFTs … In the case of the Series 5 Apple Watch, having an LTPO display is good because it lets [Apple] dynamically change the refresh rate on the wearable’s screen. If you’re looking at [and] interacting with it, they crank it up. If it’s idle, they only really need to refresh it once a minute or so. The end result of this tinkering is an Apple Watch that’s always on but doesn’t always eat away at your battery life.”

New display technologies for the iPhone

It’s not totally clear what this would mean for iPhone. The demands for smartphone and watch displays are different. There’s a good reason for a watch display to be on all the time, whereas an iPhone screen doesn’t need to be displaying any information when it’s sitting on a desk or in our pockets. If an LTPO display could lead to better iPhone battery life, however, that’s a good thing.

The battery life remains one of the things I’d most like to see improved about the iPhone. During the Jony Ive era at Apple, the emphasis seemed to be on creating a thinner phone rather than on enhancing how long it could run for before requiring a recharge. Since then, Apple seemingly backed away from this obsession with thinness at all costs. LTPO display technology could provide one way of enhancing battery life without needing a bigger battery.

The one other interesting thing about Digitimes‘ report is that it suggests Apple will stick with OLED iPhone displays for at least another year. Apple has been exploring alternative screen technologies such as micro-LED and mini-LED. These are rumored to be making their arrival soon. But perhaps not on the iPhone just yet.