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Gartner: OLED iPhone still possible, no early refresh

updated 02:50 pm EDT, Wed April 2, 2008

Gartner on OLED iPhone

The technology and costs are in place that Apple may still introduce an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen with an upcoming generation of the iPhone, according to an interview Electronista has conducted with Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. While making it clear that claims of mass production of a 3G iPhone last week were not predictions but rather just "credible" numbers based on expectations, the researcher maintains that OLED is a realistic possibility for the iPhone's display due to power requirements for 3G radios, which almost always consume more energy than 2G radios.

OLEDs are already in use for some cameras, cellphones, and portable media players and are prized both for their low power as well as their color. As the display only lights portions of the screen that show more than pure black, the technology not only consumes less power but produces higher contrast ratios than LCDs, which are forced to light even black pixels. No dedicated backlight is needed as with the older hardware.

Despite the radical difference, implementing the technology is relatively simple and may be a drop-in replacement for LCDs, according to Dulaney. So long as Apple continues to use a system with a protective glass cover, it remains possible for Apple to use its existing "sandwich" design, which places a capacitive touch panel just underneath the glass followed by the actual display. Without the need for a backlight, Apple would also have more room for additional components.

Among the most likely additions Apple could make in the free space are a GPS receiver and additional storage, Dulaney explains, though he notes that he hasn't received information confirming any such additions.

Samsung is a potential candidate for supplying these types of OLEDs, the Gartner researcher notes. The Korean company is already producing technology suitable for handhelds and has produced active-matrix OLEDs, or AMOLEDs, that improve on the basic formula of OLEDs with much richer color palettes.

Cost is the primary challenge for Apple but is said not to be a factor given Apple's likely production refinements. OLEDs currently cost roughly twice as much as equivalent LCDs, but the cost of manufacturing the iPhone has decreased since its introduction last year, and reportedly affords an increased profit margin that Apple could use to improve the display. Apple's historical tendency to adopt early breakthroughs makes an OLED a logical choice, especially as the company likes to maintain a reputation for premium products.

This is "a hallmark of Apple," Dulaney says. "They like to put in these new things."

However, the Gartner expert refutes claims by American Technology and Piper Jaffray that a recent and widespread iPhone shortage is signs that this iPhone update is being released ahead of schedule.

There are a number of factors that could affect the low supply, of which a switch in production from 2G to 3G iPhones is just one, the analyst says. Supply issues are cited as more likely and could include allocating too much stock to a non-US iPhone carrier as well as a component shortage. A decision to bump up the release of a new iPhone is "low" on the list of probable causes, he adds.

Instead, Dulaney maintains that a new iPhone is most likely to appear in tandem with the version 2.0 iPhone firmware in June and should arrive before September.

by MacNN Staff



  1. njfuzzy

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Supply and Demand

    Another possibility is that supply of the old phones are constrained because *some* capacity is going towards building stock for a major launch of the new ones. It could still be some time away.

  1. danviento

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Of the OLEDs I've seen, the quality isn't all that hot. Yes, they're much cheaper to produce, but I'd be concerned about the display quality and longevity until they've developed them further. Apple is HIGHLY unlikely to use them if it knocks down display quality. That's one of the iPhone's major selling points (can't help but miss the wow factor when you first pick one up).

    OLED is almost as much of a pie-in-the-sky technology as 'green' 'alternative' fuel sources, at this point. Yes there's plenty of hype stories around the potential for OLED, but I wouldn't hold my breath on waiting for a model utilizing them.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: supply and demand

    No, that can't be it. Mainly because they wouldn't go through the hassles of stockpiling new phones without having them certified by the FCC, and that's something the public easily can find out (one of the reasons it was speculated that Apple did the whole pre-announcement of the iPhone was because they knew they couldn't keep it secret due to the FCC stuff).

    And you don't go out of your way to alienate (or kick out) current potential customers just because you want to have stock 6 months from now for some new phone.

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