Apple is reportedly investing in equipment and infrastructure for OLED panel manufacturing, presumably to lessen its dependence on Samsung, according to a new supply chain report.
The Cupertino-based company has apparently purchased a number of chemical vapor deposition (CVD) machines from Korea-based Sunic Systems, according to a Korean-language report by ET News. This move is apparently part of Apple’s larger effort to research and develop its own OLED production technology, likely to reduce its reliance on Samsung, currently the world’s largest supplier of OLED panels.
Apple is “eagerly developing” proprietary OLED tech and that the recent purchase of machinery will help move the company forward in that goal, DigiTimes reported. This, of course, would be a groundbreaking supply change for Apple, which has never manufactured display panels for any of its devices. Although improbable on the surface, the move does line up with Apple’s recent efforts to research and produce certain components in-house. The company has long shied away from single-vendor reliance.
ET News theorizes that the recent move might also break the dominant supply position of Japanese firm Canon Kokki, the world’s largest supplier of CVD machines. Notably, the majority of Canon Kokki’s output is sent to Samsung. It’s worth noting that, while OLED panel manufacturing uses chemical vapor deposition, CVD machinery can also be used for other fabrication purposes, such as integrated circuits and photovoltaic components.
Apple has historically only used LCD panels for its flagship device, but this year’s iPhone 8 (a.k.a. iPhone Edition or iPhone X) is all but confirmed to be the company’s first OLED smartphone. OLED panels carry a number of advantages over traditional LCD displays, including sharper contrast ratios and faster refresh rates. OLED displays also don’t require a backlight panel and are typically much more energy efficient due to how they handle black pixels.
Samsung is currently poised to be the sole supplier of OLED panels for this year’s flagship iPhone, as the manufacturer has inked a deal to supply Apple with roughly 160 million panels. The Korean giant has also bumped up its production capabilities ahead of the iPhone 8’s announcement in the fall. Apple is apparently looking to change that, however, as the company is coaxing LG into producing OLED panels in 2018.
Apple producing its own OLED displays is fairly unprecedented, but the change isn’t likely to take place anytime soon. Setting up OLED supply lines doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s too close to the iPhone 8’s announcement for Apple to produce enough OLED panels for that device. A more likely scenario is that the CVD machines are meant for future production. As for further speculation, combining this news with the Apple and Foxconn plan to build U.S.-based display production plants could make for some interesting theories.