The OLED display Apple is using in its new iPhone X brings several benefits over current LCD technology, but supplies are likely to be limited at first. Will be benefits of the new screen make it worth the wait? Here’s a quick rundown on OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology and how it differs from today’s LCD (liquid crystal display) screens.
OLED vs LCD. What’s the difference?
LCD screens like those used in previous iPhones and the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are built on a backlight—a panel as large as the screen itself that produces a constant white light anytime the screen is on. A series of polarizers and filters are layered in front of the backlight to control the light and produce the image you see on screen. It’s been the dominant technology used in flat-panel displays for almost two decades, but keeping that backlight on draws a lot of power—and that’s a big disadvantage in a portable device.
An OLED does away with the backlight completely. Each individual pixel has a tiny amount of organic material that fluoresces when current flows, so the pixels produce light directly. It’s also possible to control brightness at a per-pixel level.
What’s the advantage of OLED?
The display is typically the most power-hungry component in any phone because of the backlight. By removing it, the iPhone will be more power efficient, which is great for users.
It’s not the only reason to applaud OLED. Getting rid of the backlight allows for the entire display module to be thinner, which is an important consideration in a smartphone. Apple could use the extra space to make the phone thinner or add a little more battery capacity.
Just as important is the image. OLEDs display more vibrant colors, have deeper blacks and brighter whites and a greater contrast ratio so most people find them superior to LCD.
Is Apple the first to use OLED?
No. OLED screens began appearing in smartphones several years ago and are used today in phones from Samsung, LG, and other competitors. Several companies also offer OLED monitors and TV screens and flexible OLEDs are increasingly used in smartwatches, fitness bands, and automobile dashboards. Apple is already using an OLED in the Apple Watch.
What’s taken Apple so long to launch an OLED iPhone?
In part it’s a problem of production. As the iPhone is the world’s best-selling smartphone, Apple needs to be able to ensure a reliable stream of OLED panels from its display partners, but OLED has proved a difficult technology to master.
So when you get to the tens of millions of displays that Apple needs, a small manufacturing glitch can turn into a big problem.
To date, most of the world’s smartphone OLEDs are produced by Samsung Display, which leaves Apple at the mercy of a single supplier for a key component—typically a position the company has tried to avoid.
While Apple doesn’t comment on its supply chain, the availability of OLED panels is already expected to impact availability of the high-end iPhone with limited supplies being available at launch and back orders being the norm. It will also contribute to the expected record-setting price of the new handset.