Everything You Need to Know About OLEDs, Quantum Dots & iPhone, Part II

Paul Gagnon, IHS

A new LCD display technology for 4K UHD is called Quantum Dots. On the other hand, Organic LEDs are often mentioned as a next generation technology for iPhone displays. Here is Part II of my interview with Paul Gagnon, Director of TV Research at IHS Technology. The discussion continues with manufacturing issues, suppliers, response times, costs and the ultimate winner down the road.


In Part I of this interview, published on January 20, the basics of organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) and Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Quantum Dots were introduced. Mr. Gagnon explained the two technologies, the color purity of Quantum Dots, the relative cost for 4KTVs, the brightness and dynamic range of the two technologies and the power requirements.

Here in Part II, the discussion continues with the investments in and the future of both technologies, costs, response times ("motion response") and sourcing issues. I inquire about applicability to the iPhone


TMO's John Martellaro: Is the industry marching in lockstep towards OLED as the Holy Grail in displays? Or do you see the industry doing a mixture of both?

Paul Gagnon: Well, certainly if you look at investment being put into the two technologies, by a huge magnitude, companies are backing LCD because it's such a mature display technology.

In the case of OLED, there are only two manufacturers of OLED displays, and that's Samsung and LG. Samsung is producing small OLED displays—mobile phone type applications—and tablets. LG is producing both small and large format displays for use in TVs. And each of those companies has invested billions of dollars in developing the technology. So far, they're the only two to do it on a massive scale. Even then, its a relatively small investment compared to the LCD industry.

I would say that if you talk to each of those companies, they would say that, especially in the case of LG, OLED is [and will be] the future of display technology for a long time. But here are certain manufacturing hurdles that have yet to be fully overcome. And that's been the challenge: commercializing it.

TMO: That naturally brings me to my next question. On smaller displays, where the manufacturing challenge may not be so great, is there a particular advantage in going with OLED? For example, is it more compatible with the touch screens we use on smartphones? [These displays have multiple layers: backlight, LCD, Pressure sensitive layer, capacitive layer and a coating.]

PG: In smartphone displays, with multiple layers, one of the goals is to remove as many of the layers as possible. Both Samsung and LG have worked to incorporate touch sensitivity inside the OLED display, called "in-cell" touch technology. And that's for both OLED or LCD.

The thing to remember about nanocrystals or Quantum Dots is that it's simply a layer in the stack of films and has nothing to do with touch technology.

TMO: Given all the above, is there a particular issue that would cause a company like Apple to prefer OLED over Quantum Dots?

PG: In a small display, OLED is not really more expensive. The main reason someone might want to prefer OLED is the display performance characteristics. For example, better contrast levels, perhaps slightly better color performance. In the case of Apple, the other consideration is suppliers. Apple likes to be able to source from multiple different suppliers. That forces them to compete with each other to deliver the best cost. In the case of OLED, as I mentioned before there aren't that many suppliers.

TMO: However, in all my reading on the Internet, I hardly ever hear about Quantum Dots being discussed in the context of smartphones.

PG: That's right. I think there are maybe only a handful of [small] devices that use Quantum Dots. I think that's because it's a relatively new technology and the implementation is still being worked out. Also, when you think about working on the color purity, that's more critical in the entertainment space, as in television, than in a mobile display. So maybe manufacturers have thought it was not worthwhile putting the investment into Quantum Dots for small displays.

Continued on page 2: Response times, OLED compared to Plasma, manufacturing costs and the bottom line for iPhones.

Page 2: Response times, OLED vs. Plasma, manufacturing costs and bottom line for iPhones


TMO: Back to TVs for a second. Does one of the technologies we've discussed have a better response time? In milliseconds?

PG: In the case of OLED, it is a much faster responding technology than LCD. That is, when it comes to motion performance, OLED is definitely better than LCD. In fact, OLED kind of picks up where Plasma displays left off. Recall, Plasma was a display technology that was highly favored.

TMO: I know! I have a Panasonic Plasma 1080p HDTV, and I love it.

PG: I do too! Plasma had the best of all worlds where it had great color and contrast, very good motion performance. It just didn't have the manufacturing scale that LCD did. And so economics won out.

In the case of OLED, it does have the motion performance of Plasma, it does have the contrast and black levels of Plasma, and it does have really good color, so it has many of the same virtues as Plasma. But, it can be thinner than Plasma and higher resolution. It's just more expensive right now. [And so, all you Plasma fanatics. Don't lament your loss. That technology is never making the leap to 4K UHD.]

TMO: Thank you Paul. This is great stuff!

The takeaway I got here is that not a great deal of work has been put into Quantum Dots for small, mobile displays, where color purity and brightness is not a huge priority as it is for 4K UHD. [See part I.] OLEDs are likely the future for small displays, but the current price premium (small but not negligible), manufacturing and multiple source issues remain.


Subsequent to our interview, Paul did some cost analysis for me.

I've laid out a comparison of display costs for OLED vs. (standard) LCD for TV and smartphone. I tried to make the comparison as direct as possible, but there are definitely going to be some variations from company to company. The data comes from the Q4'15 edition of the IHS Display Long-Term Demand Forecast Tracker.

You can see that there is a 2.3x difference in cost for the large display and 1.9x difference for the mobile display. It's important to note though that there are a lot of different screen size and resolution configurations for smartphones so the dynamic is a bit more complicated, but that was the best comparison I could make. In some cases, the gap is almost negligible. I don't have a quantified comparison of Quantum Dots vs. OLED in either case though.

55-inch 4K TV Q3'15 display module cost OLED - $1066, vs Std. LCD - $466

5.2-inch 1920 x 1080 smartphone Q3'15 display module cost OLED - $31.70 vs. Std., LCD - $16.80

The bill of materials for an iPhone 6s is roughly US$210, and it retails for $649. Using a cost scaling factor of 4x to retail for the $15 difference quoted above, an OLED display in 2015 would have added about $60 to the price of an iPhone. Assuming manufacturing and volume issues could have been solved. Certainly, in time, the difference will come down and Apple will be happy with its OLED suppliers. And they'll be able to produce in the quantity Apple requires. Until then, we wait.

Once again, my thanks to Paul Gagnon with IHS for a very informative interview.


Teaser image via Shutterstock.