Luke Lin and Jason Yang, DIGITIMES Research, Taipei [Thursday 13 September 2012]
Apple on September 12, announced its most important product for 2012 - the iPhone 5 with a panel size increased from 3.5-inches to 4-inches and a resolution improved from 960x640 to 1136x640. The smartphone's back cover material is also changed from glass, used in the iPhone 4S, to metal. In addition, the iPhone 5 adopts an in-cell touchscreen panel with an overall thickness of only 7.6mm and the device is equipped with the company's latest A6 processor, as well as LTE network support to significantly improve the machine's computation and wireless transmission performance.
With the global smartphone industry heading into maturity, Digitimes Research finds that Apple, like other smartphone players, is aggressively pumping up its smartphone's hardware specifications such as panel size, processor performance, camera pixels and mobile transmission speed, to better compete in the market. Although Apple's strategy of only launching one new smartphone model each year allows the company to be able to focus more on the smartphone's overall design and manufacturing details compared to other players, a lack of choices over model selection and specification, along with a long time gap between the launch of each generation product are relatively limiting factors when it comes to the iPhone's penetration into the market.
One of the more interesting details of the latest iPhone is the use of in-cell touchscreen panels. Improving yield rates for the panels should benefit iPhone 5's shipments in the fourth quarter to reach 30-35 million units. However, the volume will still be unable to satisfy demand for the iPhone 5.
Total iPhone (all models) shipments in the fourth quarter are expected to reach more than 40 million units. Currently, only Japan-based Japan Display and Korea-based LG Display have a production yield close to 80% for in-cell touchscreen panels and Sharp, which has a yield rate at 30-40%, is only expected to to have a chance to become a major panel supplier to Apple after the panel maker improves the yield rate in the fourth quarter.
Digitimes Research estimates that by the end of 2012, Japan Display's 5.5G production lines will see their total production capacity rise from 10,000 glass substrates currently to 30,000 substrates, while Sharp's yield rate will also increase to 60-70%, allowing Japan Display and Sharp to supply nine and seven million touchscreen panels each month, respectively, and the combined volumes will also be capable of satisfying demand for the iPhone 5 in 2013.
Due to Japan Display's 3.5G production lines being the only source for non-Apple brand vendors (mostly Japan-based) to acquire in-cell touchscreen panels, while Samsung Display, the only maker that has achieved a high yield rate in mass producing on-cell touchscreen panel used in AMOLED panels, is mainly supplying its capacity to Samsung Electronics, Apple and Samsung are expected to remain the two major brands equipped with embedded touchscreen panels for their smartphone products in 2013, Digitimes Research noted.