The growth potential for high-end smartphone displays is not very positive, keeping the shippments of advanced smartphones low in 2013.
After shipments of smart phones nearly doubled in 2011, smart phone brands looked to 2012 for another year of strong growth. In 2011, shipments of displays for mobile phones with 480 lines or more in one dimension (which was the standard for smartphones last year) reached 518 million, and there were hopes coming into 2012 that the 600 million unit mark could be passed. However, the growth potential for smart phone displays, defined this year as at least 640 lines, looks somewhat less positive. According to an upcoming report by DisplaySearch, the total will be 538 million, although mobile phone displays with 480 lines or more will reach nearly 700 million.
Most smartphone brands are now developing and planning 2013 models, and they will release specifications of new products and RFQs (Requests for Quotation) to component vendors in the beginning of Q3, then finalize in Q4. Preliminary surveys conducted by DisplaySearch indicated that some brands would launch high-end smart phones with FHD (1920x1080) resolution LCDs. However, such panels are at the leading edge of LCD manufacturing technology, and have higher cost and power consumption.
For example, for a panel size of 5 inches, the pixel density will be over 440 ppi (pixels per inch). At such a high resolution, the available area for light to go through each pixel (called aperture ratio) is very small, which limits the transmission of light through the LCD. Assuming a standard specification of 500 nits brightness, panel makers will have to increase the numbers of and/or brightness of LEDs in the backlight. Also, such high resolution requires the use of LTPS or oxide TFTs. Finally, the higher resolution will require higher bandwidth interface between the CPU and driver IC.
"All of these factors lead to higher power consumption and cost for FHD panels, and the supply will be limited by the small number of panel makers that can mass produce them," says Shawn Lee, a Senior analyst for DisplaySearch.
For these reasons, DisplaySearch says that brands will likely have limited offers of FHD smart phones in 2013, and HD (1280x720) resolution will remain the mainstream for high end smart phones. WVGA (800x480) resolution will be the mainstream for mid- or low-end smart phone displays, while the market share of qHD (960x540) will fall, as the market for mid-range smart phones is eroded by high- and low-end models.
Apple is expected to launch its iPhone 5 in the second half of this year, and anticipation for the product could be creating a slowdown in the smart phone market, as consumers wait for the new iPhone. In the run-up to Apple?s iPhone 5 launch, rumors have been flying for months about what features it will have, including a larger display, in-cell touch, and even using a new material called "liquidmetal" (metallic alloys that have high strength and elasticity) for the back cover, and others.
For the longer term, brands need component vendors to develop more advanced technology for their long term plan, including high density batteries, high performance and low power CPUs, and flexible and thin displays. If materials such as liquidmetal are adopted for the case, it could impact the antenna performance, so brands are considering redesigning the antenna structure, including possibly embedding it in the display.
"We can assume that component vendors continue to develop new technologies, and that brands will utilize them so that the high-end smart phone in 2014 will move beyond current designs and specification limitations," Lee said. "The ultimate goal for brands is to increase the smart phone functionality. One direction is the mobile wallet, which would enable mobile payments and other transactions with a flexible mechanical design to fit our hands and pockets," he added.