Apple to Invest $100 Million in LCD Panel Maker Japan Display

A report today from Japan-based Asahi claims Apple plans to invest millions in LCD panel supplier Japan Display Inc (JDI) to aid its restructuring, after the firm's bailout plan fell through on the withdrawal of a key backer.


According to Asahi, JDI is set to receive a $100 million investment from Apple, news that has sent the panel maker's shares up as much as 32 percent in Tokyo.

As part of the investment, Apple will also reportedly increase LCD panel orders from JDI at the expense of some of its orders from China.

News of Apple's intentions come at a crucial time for the ailing LCD panel supplier, which had been waiting on a proposed investment of $230 million from Taiwan's TPK Holding to cover its losses, before the proposal was withdrawn last week.

Financial firm CGL Group also dropped its investment plans earlier this month, leaving JDI unsure whether other members in the Chinese-Taiwanese consortium would follow through with their own bailout proposals.

JDI relies on Apple for more than half of its sales, but its mainstay LCD business has been hit heavily by less-than-stellar sales of the iPhone XR and the growing adoption of OLED panel technology.

That has left the supplier scrambling to invest in OLED production to turn around its business, which saw a $2.3 billion loss in 2018.

A report in April claimed JDI would supply the OLED screens for this year's new Apple Watch model.

If the firm can stay afloat it could potentially do the same for future iPhones, which would help Apple diversify its supply chain and allow the tech giant to reduce its heavy reliance on Samsung for the newer OLED display tech.


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Japan Display to Supply OLED Screens for Apple Watch Series 5

Japan Display will supply the OLED screens for this year's new Apple Watch model, according to a new Reuters report out today.


Japan Display Inc will begin to supply organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens for the Apple Watch later this year, two sources said, a breakthrough for the cash-strapped company whose late shift to OLED has cost it orders from Apple.

The supply deal would mark Japan Display’s foray into the OLED display market, the two sources familiar with the matter said, declining to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The development comes as particularly good news for the liquid crystal display panel supplier, which relied on Apple for more than half of its revenue in the year ended March 2018, and whose mainstay LCD business has been hit heavily by Apple's recent shift away from LCD.

There have been reports of less-than-stellar sales of iPhone XR, which uses LCD. It's also rumored that Apple could drop LCD displays for its 2020 iPhones in favor of an all-OLED line-up. As a result, Japan Display has been seeking investor help that will put it on firmer ground before the switch takes place.

Reuters reported on Monday that Japan Display aims to raise as much as $990 million in new financing as early as this week.

Apple has been working to bolster its OLED display supply chain cut down its reliance on Samsung, which supplies displays for the iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max. It has reportedly pushed LG Display to build out its OLED display production facilities, and has even purchased equipment to build an OLED panel research and development site in Taiwan.

Today's report offers little clue as to what the switch to Japan Display OLED screens could mean for the next Apple Watch, save for a note that newer OLED technology is generally thinner and allows more flexibility than LCD screens. For the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple upgraded the display panel to a larger LTPO (Low Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) OLED Retina Display, which means it is more efficient and consumes less power for better battery life.

According to reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the Apple Watch Series 5, coming in September 2019, will feature a new ceramic casing design, suggesting a possible return of the Apple Watch Edition.

Other rumors suggest a future version of the Apple Watch will adopt solid state buttons that don't physically click but instead provide haptic feedback to users when the buttons are touched. Apple introduced haptic feedback for the Digital Crown in the Series 4, and haptic feedback could potentially extend to the side button.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 5
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Apple’s Rumored 6.1-Inch iPhone Said to Be 18:9 With 2,160×1,080 Resolution and Ultra-Slim Bezels

While the rumored 6.1-inch iPhone isn't expected to feature an OLED display like the iPhone X, the device will still have a more advanced LCD display than previous iPhones, according to Taiwan's Commercial Times.

Japan Display's Full Active LCD

The report, translated from Chinese, claims Apple will be adopting Japan Display's so-called "Full Active" LCD technology. Unlike traditional LCDs, like those of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, Full Active LCDs only require ultra-slim 0.5mm bezels on all four sides, even smaller than those on the iPhone X.

Japan Display says its Full Active LCDs are six-inch displays with a resolution of 2,160×1,080 pixels. Accordingly, the panels have an 18:9 aspect ratio, meaning their length is double their width.

This suggests the 6.1-inch iPhone will have a taller display, likely with a cutout for the TrueDepth camera system, although not quite as tall as the iPhone X with its unique 19.5:9 aspect ratio. The device is already rumored to resemble the iPhone X's nearly full-screen design, so this would make sense.

A 6.1-inch display with a resolution of 2,160×1,080 pixels would have around 395 pixels per inch. KGI Securities Ming-Chi Kuo said the 6.1-inch iPhone's display will have 320-330 PPI, however, so there's conflicting information.

This rumor is consistent with a report from The Wall Street Journal in September, which said Apple was considering using Japan Display's advanced LCD panels in some 2018 iPhone models. Full Active LCDs have already been used by some Chinese smartphone makers, including Xiaomi for its Mi Mix 2.

The use of Full Active LCDs instead of OLED displays is one design compromise that will allow Apple to sell the 6.1-inch iPhone at a cheaper price point. Others include an aluminum frame instead of stainless steel, a single-lens instead of dual-lens rear camera, and no 3D Touch, according to Kuo.

In a research note obtained by MacRumors today, Kuo predicted the 6.1-inch iPhone will be a mid-range device priced between $700 and $800 in the United States, up from his previous $650 to $750 estimate.

Related Roundup: iPhone X
Buyer's Guide: iPhone X (Buy Now)

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Sharp and Japan Display to Compete for iPhone OLED Panel Orders in 2018

More OLED panel makers are gearing up to compete with Samsung and LG for orders from Apple as soon as this year, according to industry sources (via DigiTimes).

Thanks to its existing production capability, Samsung was the sole supplier of OLED display panels for Apple's iPhone X in 2017, which left LG Display under pressure from Apple and scrambling to invest billions in its OLED manufacturing facilities in time to compete for the next round of orders.


That investment appears to be paying off already, with LG Display reportedly in line to supply some OLED panels to this year's new range of iPhones, which is expected to include two new 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch iPhone models with OLED displays. LG Display will supply Apple with the 6.5-inch OLED panels, while Samsung will supply the 5.8-inch panels, according to one report.

Other suppliers now said to be jostling for third and fourth position in the OLED pecking order include Sharp, now a Foxconn Electronics company, and Japan Display (JDI). Both companies are preparing to churn out OLED screens as early as the second quarter of 2018, according to sources, citing Japan-based media reports. Sharp also aims to mount the flexible OLED screens on some of its own premium smartphone models set to launch in 2018, the sources added.

In stark contrast with the state of play early last year, the accelerating trend of Asian suppliers investing in OLED production facilities will "definitely" lead to an excess supply of the panels in the coming years, according to DigiTimes' sources.
China currently has a total of 13 fabs capable of rolling out small- to medium-sized OLED panels. The combined production capacity of these 13 fabs will reportedly reach 350,000 substrates a month if all of them come online, said sources.
The adverse impact of any excess supply is expected to be offset by the increasing adoption of OLED panels in other "premier" models of consumer electronics products, although no examples were offered.

Today's report follows news on Thursday that instead of competing for OLED display supply against Apple, some China-based smartphone makers are turning towards mini LED this year. Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi have reportedly asked Taiwan-based suppliers to begin producing mini LED backlighting in June in anticipation of products that would debut in the second half of 2018.

Related Roundup: iPhone X
Buyer's Guide: iPhone X (Buy Now)

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Japan Display to Supply Apple With ‘Full Active’ LCD Panels for Some 2018 iPhones

Apple has expressed interest in buying advanced liquid crystal display (LCD) panels from Japan Display for use in some of its iPhones next year, according to a new report today from The Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this month, Apple announced the iPhone X, its first smartphone to adopt OLED screen technology. OLED displays offer sharper contrast and brighter colors than traditional LCD panels, but cost and supply issues are an ongoing concern for Apple, and are likely to slow down any full transition to the technology.


However, Japan Display's advanced LCD panels, which it calls Full Active LCDs, are said to match or exceed some of OLED's advantages at a lower cost, and Apple is interested in procuring them for use in at least some iPhones set to debut in its 2018 smartphone line-up, according to people familiar with the matter.

In Full Active panels, the bezel or border space around each edge of the screen has been trimmed to 0.5 millimeters, the Japanese maker says, compared with as much as several millimeters on older LCDs. Current OLED smartphone panels have a bezel of about one millimeter, which makes them easier to be curved or angled. The Full Active panel has already been used by several Chinese mobile makers, including Xiaomi for its Mi Mix 2 phone, according to Kazutaka Nagaoka, chief of Japan Display's mobile unit. 

News about Japanese Display's advanced LCD panels first emerged in January of this year, when they were referred to simply as "flexible LCDs". The panels were said to be bendable enough to manufacture smartphones with the same screen design as Samsung's Galaxy Edge series, thanks to a layer of plastic inside the glass. At the time, the company claimed mass production would begin from 2018.

Last month, Japan Display said that its Full Active displays would account for more than 70 percent of its business in panels for smartphones and other smart devices in the year ending March 2019. People at companies that work with Japan Display said interest about Full Active LCDs came directly from Apple, which is why the display maker is predicting rapid uptake for Full Active. Apple declined to comment on the report.

Apple's line-up of iPhones next year will introduce a larger-screened LCD model, measuring more than 6 inches, according to a rumor earlier this week. Based on the same part maker sources, Apple's supply of LCD screen from Japan Display already includes panel orders for the new larger screen size. Meanwhile, a switch to OLED-only iPhones is not expected until 2019.


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