updated 12:45 pm EST, Wed November 23, 2011
New iPhones, iPads could use Sharp IGZO screens
(Updated with info on Apple investment in Sharp) Apple is forecast to begin commercial production of a TV set in February, at a Sharp plant in Japan, according to Jefferies analyst Peter Misek. In particular Apple is said to be partnering with Sharp for LCDs, and starting production at the latter company's Gen 10 Sakai plant in Osaka. The TV is said to be in position for a mid-2012 launch.
Competitors in the TV market are allegedly "scrambling" to figure out what features an Apple-designed TV might have. "They hope to avoid the fate of other industries and manufacturers who were caught flat footed by Apple," writes Misek in a note to investors. "Having said that, it appears that mainstream TV manufacturers are likely to be at least 6 to 12 months behind in a best-case scenario."
Rivals are claimed to be looking at Android as an option, since they typically lack the software and cloud capabilities offered by Apple. Both LG and Samsung are known to be working on Google TV projects. These are only anticipated to show in 2012.
Apple is also said to be turning to Sharp for screens to use in next-generation iPads and iPhones. The companies' partnership has reportedly produced modified IGZO (iridium, gallium, zinc) LCDs with 330ppi resolution, moreover enabling Apple to skip using IPS technology or dual-bar LED backlighting. "In our view, this should lead to several design advantages, namely the device can be thinner, battery life should be longer, and the overall experience for users should be meaningfully improved," Misek comments.
"The IGZO technology is perfect in that it offers near-OLED power consumption while having a lower cost and thinness that is only 25% greater than OLED, based on our checks," he adds. IGZO displays are expected to debut in the iPad 3. Misek also suggests that Apple should be getting the panels at a discount, as it has supposedly made a large capital commitment to Sharp. The latter business has publicly stated that the main use for IGZO displays will be "tablet terminals."
In the long-term, Misek forecasts that Apple and Sharp will do joint development of OLED panels, using a Sharp technology that "prints" OLED panels onto film that is then fixed to glass. "The yield improvements have been enormous and have enabled some trial runs to produce commercial yields," the analyst says. "We expect Sharp/Apple to have a line testing this by the middle of 2012 with 2013 output possible." OLEDs are only predicted to show up on handhelds at first, skipping larger Apple products until 2015.
Update: Misek notes that Apple is estimated to have spent between $500 million and $1 billion on manufacturing equipment for IGZO displays at Sharp's Gen 6 Kameyama plant. If accurate, the figure would represent a large portion of Apple's $8 billion capital budget for the 2012 fiscal year. Apple spent just $4.6 billion in 2011.