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The Big Reveal In Apple’s Upcoming iPhone 6

by Sunday Express
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Flexible_display14Bloomberg reports Apple will launch two larger screen phones next year but the more significant aspect of the report is the likelihood of an iPhone with a curved screen. The Wall St Journal picked up on it too – it means, most likely, that Apple will be transferring its screen technologies from LCD to OLED (organic light emitting diode). Cult of Mac also references the change. This signals a big shift for Apple, a late move in fact. But it also encompasses a big story about the transition of the American economy.

For a clue to this latter significance, take a look at the recent stock price movement of Universal Display Corporation – UDC. UDC makes the components for phosphorescent OLED as found in the Samsung S4. UDC’s stock shot up 25% last week on the back of a near  tripling in revenues for the quarter. OLED is going mainstream.

To date, Apple CEO Tim Cook has set himself firmly against OLED technologies in preference to LCD, where Apple has worked with suppliers to perfect its Retina technology. In fact back in February he described OLED as “awful”. Nigam Arora at the time speculated here on Forbes that in the background Apple was simply scrambling to catch up.

The world leader in OLED displays is arch-rival Samsung and last week Samsung announced it would be producingmuch denser OLED screens for 2014 and 2015.

Samsung said it is looking to produce 2,560-by-1,440 displays by 2014 and ultra high-def (4K), or 3,840-by-2,160 displays by 2015.

So Samsung is racing ahead with its OLED technologies. With more pixels Samsung can produce better shapes and is now talking about bendable and fold-able phones in the same 2014-2015 time-frame.

Some of its claims need to be treated with caution.  Samsung first exhibited its YOUM bendable phone at CES this year but took until the Fall to launch the Round (a curved display but not bendable or flexible) and then only in Korea.

But it seems to have spurred Apple into revealing, discreetly, some of its curved screen plans to Bloomberg. Apple had already begun patenting curved screen designs before it mastered the technoogies. The US  Patent and Trademarks Office published Apple’s application for a wrap-around form factor for electronic devices back in March, a few weeks after Samsung showed off the YOUM.

The bigger story, however, is the loss of OLED technologies to the US economy. OLED is essentially a US technology baked in the labs of Kodak. You can read the Wikipedia entry here and my account of it here. The desire to create and build flat panel displays in the US goes back to the 195os. Much of the technology was developed in the Kodak labs during the 1970s and 1980s.

But Kodak overpriced the licenses for its florescent OLED technologies and set off a scramble for patent workarounds. Samsung joined in both parties (licensing from Kodak and looking for ways round those licenses). It set off on a ten year odyssey to make OLED work at scale and to promote alternatives to Kodak’s patents.

You’ll see in this article here, that Universal Display was an early investor in those alternatives.

The investment in intellectual property is beginning to come good for Universal Display, and it is visible in this quarters’ earnings. But it’s coming even better for Samsung who now dominate the OLED market in smartphones and TVs, and are very well set to exploit related technologies in photovoltaics and in green lighting, a major use of OLED.

What did Samsung do that was so special? Nothing more than make the investment in manufacturing on the back of a ten year investment in technology development. Universal, of course has done what we all thought was right – invest in the IP – and is now a world leader in the field. But display leadership and the integrated manufacturing benefits are headed to Samsung not to Apple, or America where the dream began.


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