How the iPhone X’s screen changes ev­ery­thing

Ap­ple’s jump to OLED tech­nol­ogy could bring sev­eral ben­e­fits for iPhone users, writes Mar­tyn Wil­liams

Macworld - - Feature -

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 colours, 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 has 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.

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