Ever since Apple switched to OLED panels with the iPhone X series in 2017, it has relied on Samsung to source the majority of these panels. Samsung was an obvious choice for Apple for the sole reason that it was (and continues to be) the world’s largest maker of OLED panels, with LG coming in second.
That changed in 2020 when Apple signed with a little-known Chinese company called BOE to make displays for its lower-tier iPhone 12. While Samsung and LG continue to supply Apple with OLED panels, 2023 could finally see BOE increase the number of displays. made for Apple. It is also likely to meet the strict quality standards set by Apple so that its screens can end up on the future top model of the iPhone 15 Pro.
A difficult start
Even though BOE has been a long-time supplier to Apple, having supplied LCD panels in the past, its entry into the exclusive club of OLED manufacturers was a milestone in the company’s history. To reduce its dependence on a single supplier for something as crucial as the display, Apple signed an agreement with LG Display to supply it with OLED panels. LG’s production capacity, however, hasn’t been able to increase or even come close to Samsung’s levels – and Apple’s expectations. Unsurprisingly, through 2020, 80% of Apple products with an OLED panel used Samsung panels, with the remaining 20% using displays made by LG.
Things didn’t start too well for BOE, however, after Apple was reportedly unhappy with the quality of the initial batch of BOE-made panels intended for certain iPhone 12 models. Nevertheless, following initial hiccups, BOE eventually managed to supply a significant number of 6.06-inch OLED panels to Apple, most of which found their way onto Apple’s low-cost iPhone 12 series and current iPhone 13 series.
Apple’s decision not to use BOE-made panels for high-end iPhone 13 models also had a lot to do with the fact that the iPhone 13 series also marked Apple’s transition to using LTPO (Low Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) display technology on the more expensive iPhone 13 models.
With BOE still honing its LTPO capabilities, it’s unlikely we’ll see BOE-made panels on high-end iPhone 14 models in 2022. In fact, reports already indicate that panels for iPhone 14 models top-end will come mainly from Samsung – with a small percentage supplied by LG.
The tipping point
According to South Korean publication The Elec, BOE’s moment of glory is set to arrive in 2023. The company is reportedly working tirelessly to ensure its OLED panels meet the quality standards set by Apple. It aims to take a significant chunk out of LG and Samsung that year and provide LTPO OLED panels for future iPhone 15 Pro models.
In addition to taking steps to improve its quality, BOE has also aggressively expanded and modernized its production facilities. This includes a brand new assembly line for manufacturing flexible OLEDs, which is expected to open in phases in 2023.
Things are looking good for BOE even in 2022, Apple is expected to use nearly 50 million BOE-made panels for the iPhone 14 series. This will represent 20% of Apple’s OLED needs. At current growth rates, BOE is expected to beat LG Display to become Apple’s second-largest OLED panel supplier in 2022. And given its dizzying growth, even Samsung’s coveted status as the largest iPhone display supplier may well be within reach in a few years.