One of the big fears last year at the release of the iPhone X was that supplies would be severely constrained due to the limited number of OLED panels available and the difficulties with Face ID hardware yields. The fears turned out to be largely unfounded, as Apple was able to fill the record number of launch orders much faster than expected.
While sticking with Samsung alone worked last year, this year’s iPhone launch should be a much bigger challenge. If the consistent rumors are true, Apple will be releasing three new iPhones, two of which will have OLED screens. One of those is likely to be a 6.5″ Plus version of the X design, which will put an increased strain on OLED supplies.
In response, Apple is bringing on a second OLED supplier. According to Bloomberg, a very reliable source for Apple leaks and rumors, they will be tapping LG to supply between 2 and 4 million screens in 2019.
This is good news, right? That remains to be seen, because LG has a bit of a checkered past when it comes to OLED screens for smartphones. This is the same LG that supplied the universally panned screens for the Pixel 2 XL last year. While some of the problems were Google’s fault, the grainy look that plagued the displays was all on LG. They haven’t been making smaller smartphone panels as long as Samsung, and haven’t perfected the techniques involved to the same degree.
Maybe things will be a little different this year, at least for Apple. Just over a year ago, there were reports that Apple was investing $2.67 billion to help LG ramp up production. While this was mostly an advance payment to guarantee delivery of OLED screens in the quantities that Apple will demand, you can bet that there is a high expectation of quality attached. I have a feeling that Apple’s cash up front approach is going to buy them a better panel than Google ended up with this year.
While I do expect that Apple will get a far better OLED display from LG than than the ones that ended up on the Pixel 2 XL, will it be good enough? That is to say, will users be able to tell the difference between panels that come from Samsung, and those that are sourced from LG? Time will tell, but as good as Samsung’s panels are, LG has its work cut out. $2.67 billion from Apple says they had better get the job done.