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Samsung-made OLED screens are believed to be among the most expensive components in Apple’s latest flagship iPhones, so the company is working to certify Chinese-made components for next year’s models. The change would enable Apple to more easily make its standard margins on an OLED-equipped 2020 sequel to the iPhone XR, and potentially provide room for price adjustments on its higher-end models.
According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Apple’s interest in OLEDs from top Chinese display maker BOE Technology Group means it would benefit from government subsidies that helped the company begin OLED production to challenge South Korean providers. Samsung currently has an over 90% global share of the premium screen market, while rival LG Display lags behind.
Recent reports have suggested that Apple will likely use OLED screens in all three of its new 2020 iPhone models, which are currently expected to be 5G-capable successors to this year’s “iPhone 11” and two “iPhone 11 Pro” sizes, akin to the iPhone XS and XS Max. If leaks from the company’s supply chain can be believed, Apple plans to use a 5.42-inch display in the smallest device before stepping up to 6.06-inch and 6.67-inch screens in the higher-end models.
Samsung’s OLED screens are estimated to account for $110 in the iPhone XS and $120 in the iPhone XS Max, which respectively start at $999 and $1,099 in the United States. The screens have remained expensive due in part to high production costs — OLED production facilities are about twice as expensive as LCDs — and the comparative lack of competition. But thanks to Chinese government subsidies, BOE’s OLED screens could cost 20% less at the same sizes and would likely become even cheaper in smaller dimensions.
For Apple, the sourcing decision will almost certainly come down to the quality of the screens. The company reportedly preferred Samsung OLED displays early in the iPhone X and iPhone XS’ lifespans, due to differences in color reproduction with LG-made screens. This year, the company may introduce “Pro” quality iPhone displays with faster refresh rates, higher brightness, and/or superior color rendition, more aggressively differentiating its new lower- and higher-end devices while enabling a budget OLED screen to make sense as a 2020 component.
BOE already supplies LCD screens to Apple for the MacBook and iPad, neither of which has moved to OLED due to cost considerations. Today’s report suggests that if BOE’s parts pass certification, they could begin as replacement panels for older iPhone models as a test before being built into new devices next year. The company also produces flexible OLED displays that are being used in Huawei’s Mate X and are being tested by Apple for possible use in future products.
It’s worth noting that cutting the costs of iPhone components won’t necessarily mean price reductions for consumers. Apple is expected to bring Qualcomm’s 5G modems to its iPhone lineup in 2020, a change that will likely increase the costs of other parts inside each device. As such, it’s entirely possible that Apple will use the screen cost savings to offset the higher chip and battery prices a new lower-end device will face, keeping next year’s retail pricing roughly the same.
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