AMOLED panel demand in smartphone market expected to grow much slower than expected

Although flexible active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) panel shipments for smartphones are expected to continue growing in 2018, the pace will be much slower than expected, according to a latest report from business information provider IHS Markit(Nasdaq: INFO).

With the adoption by Apple’s iPhone X, shipments of film-based, flexible AMOLED panels for smartphones more than tripled in 2017 to 125 million units from 40 million units in 2016, and it was expected to see continued strong growth in 2018. However, sales of the iPhone X have not met market expectations, mainly because of the $1,000-plus price tag, which is partially attributed by a more pricey display panel.

“The weak demand for the iPhone X has made smartphone brands revisit their AMOLED panel purchasing plans,” said Hiroshi Hayase, senior director at IHS Markit. Now, flexible AMOLED panel shipments for smartphones are expected to reach 167 million units in 2018, up 34 percent from 2017, much slower than the expected almost double growth.

Apple seems to reexamine the percentage of its iPhone models using AMOLED panels and those using low-temperature-poly-silicon (LTPS) thin-film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT LCD) panels for 2018. Major Chinese smartphone brands, such as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, also appear to continue applying LTPS TFT LCD panels instead of switching to AMOLED for their 2018 models, while Samsung Electronics plans to keep using flexible AMOLED panels for the Galaxy S9 this year.

As a result, demand for AMOLED smartphone panels by switching from TFT LCD panels is expected to slow down. According to the latest Smartphone Display Intelligent Service report by IHS Markit, shipments of total AMOLED panel shipments for smartphones are forecast to grow 14 percent to 453 million units in 2018, from 397 million units in 2017. Glass-based, rigid AMOLED panel shipments are expected to grow at a single digit pace to 285 million units in 2018.

On the other hand, as demand for high-resolution smartphone displays is increasing in the mid-to-high-end smartphone market, demand for LTPS TFT LCD panels is forecast to keep growing in 2018 to 785 million units, up 19 percent from 656 million units in 2017. Shipments of LTPS TFT LCD panels are expected to grow stronger than AMOLED panels in the mid-high-end smartphone panel market in 2018.

Shipments of amorphous silicon (a-Si) TFT LCD panels used for low-end smartphones and feature phones are forecast to reach 807 million units in 2018, down 16 percent form 965 million units in 2017, offsetting the growth in AMOLED and LTPS TFT LCD panel demand.

Total shipments of mobile phone displays, including both TFT LCD and AMOLED panels, are forecast to increase by 1 percent to 2.02 billion units in 2018 compared to the previous year.

“As AMOLED panels allow more options in terms of form factors, demand for AMOLED for smartphones will continue to grow. However, it will start to outpace LTPS TFT LCD only after 2020,” Hayase said. “In order to compete with LTPS TFT LCD, production cost of both rigid and flexible AMOLED panels still need to be slashed, to close the price gap with LTPS TFT LCD.”

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