Sharp president confirms new iPhones to adopt OLED panels
DEBBY WU, Nikkei staff writer
TAIPEI -- A senior executive at Japanese electronics manufacturer Sharp, which supplies smartphone panels to U.S. tech titan Apple, confirmed Saturday that the next generation of iPhone products will adopt advanced organic light-emitting diode screens.
Remarks by Sharp President Tai Jeng-wu, also an executive at Sharp's parent company Hon Hai Precision Industry, better known as Foxconn Technology Group, came at a time when Apple is working on revamping the design of its flagship device to boost sales during the iPhone's 10th anniversary next year.
"The iPhone has been evolving and now it is switching from LTPS (low-temperature poly-silicon) to OLED panels," Tai told students at Tatung University, his alma mater, during a ceremony in which he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.
"We don't know whether Apple's OLED iPhones will be a hit, but if Apple doesn't walk down this path and transform itself, there will be no innovation. It is a crisis but it is also an opportunity," Tai said.
Apple suffered its first annual sales decline since 2001 in the year to September due to weakening demand for its signature gadget and a lack of innovative features in this year's iPhone 7 range.
OLEDs offer sharper color contrast compared to LTPS screens, and their flexibility allows manufacturers to create curved and even foldable screens. Curved OLED screens have so far been used in Samsung Electronics' premium S7 edge and Note 7 handsets -- the latter of which has now halted production after battery faults caused some devices to catch fire or explode.
Sharp currently supplies LTPS panels for Apple but at present has very limited OLED production capabilities.
Tai did not specify when iPhone will start to sport OLED screens, but confirmed to reporters after the ceremony that Sharp was committed to developing OLED technology.
"We are now building a new [OLED] facility in Japan. We can make [OLED panels] in the U.S. too," he said. "If our key customer demands us to manufacture in the U.S., is it possible for us not to do so?"
The Nikkei Asian Review has reported that Apple has tentatively planned three iPhone models for the gadget's 10th anniversary next year. A premium 5.5-inch handset is slated to have a curved OLED screen, while the other two products will stick with existing LTPS panels.
As part of Apple's overhaul efforts, all three products will reportedly sport a glass cover and back joined together by a metal frame, a departure from the metal casing of previous versions of the device.
Previously, it had been widely rumored that South Korea's Samsung Electronics would be the exclusive supplier of OLED panels for the 2017 iPhone range.
On the Sharp front, Tai said that he was working to return the Japanese company to the Tokyo Stock Exchange's prestigious blue-chip first section by 2018, following an August downgrade to the second section after deteriorating financial performance.
The Nikkei reported earlier this month that Sharp expects to report its first group operating profit in three years, totaling around 40 billion yen ($384 million), for the year ending March 2017.
Tai was appointed president and chief executive of Sharp in August, soon after Hon Hai finalized its purchase of the century-old corporation. He is a close associate of Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai, which is also Apple's principal iPhone assembler.
Nikkei staff writer Cheng Ting-Fang in Taipei contributed to this story.