What do disparate media tablet devices like the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire, and the Barnes & Noble Nook have in common? They all depend on South Korea’s LG Display as the main supplier of their display panels—a coveted distinction that has made the company the world’s top supplier of media tablet screens, according to an IHS iSuppli Small & Medium Displays Market Tracker report from information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).
LG Display is the leader by a wide margin of the tablet display market, with a 51 percent share of global unit shipments in the second quarter of 2011. The company is well ahead of South Korean rival Samsung—which also supplies panels for the Apple iPad as well for its own Samsung Galaxy Tab—at a distant second with a 35 percent share. Third-place Chimei Innolux Corp. of Taiwan, another Apple supplier that also provides for the Chinese white-box market, controls a 9 percent share, as shown in the figure below. The remaining 5 percent of the tablet display market is split among several smaller firms.
“Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble have very different offerings in the media tablet market—but they all depend on LG Display because of its advanced in-plane switching (IPS) display technology,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, senior manager of small and medium displays at IHS. “LG Display’s amorphous silicon LCD panels utilizing IPS technology offer faster response speeds, wide viewing angles up to 179 degrees, and no after image—all while consuming 30 percent less power than conventional LCDs.”
LG Display also enjoys a competitive advantage in terms of economy of scale, as it devotes more capacity than other manufacturers to making media tablet displays. Such generous capacity—as well as being Apple’s main supplier—has catapulted LG Display to a favorable position in the market.
Tablets Reshape Small/Medium Display Business
From the time the iPad was introduced last year by Apple, tablet devices have become one of the main driving forces for growth in the market for small- and medium-sized displays, defined as screens smaller than 10 inches in the diagonal dimension.
Tablet shipments are expected to surge an astounding 273 percent this year compared to 2010. And at a time when sales of many consumer electronic items have stalled, media tablet shipments will maintain a robust compound annual growth rate of 45 percent from 2011 to 2015, showcasing the healthy prospects that lie ahead for the space.
Companies hoping to enter the media tablet display space face a number of barriers.
For one, displays hoping to merit consideration for inclusion in best-selling tablets must meet demanding specifications for size, pixel format, power consumption and response time.
The standard pixel format for 9.x-inch displays—the size category of the iPad, and the dominant dimension in the industry—is 1,024 by 768 at 132 pixels per inch.
Meanwhile, the standard pixel format for 7.x-inch displays—the size used by the new Kindle Fire and the Galaxy Tab—is at 1,024 by 600 at 170 pixels-per-inch. There is conjecture that Apple will implement its Retina display with resolutions of greater than 300 pixels per inch in the new iPad 3, which is expected to launch in 2012. If so, this will up the resolution trend in the media tablet PC space, challenging other tablet makers to follow suit.
Panel suppliers that cannot meet these exacting display standards or efficiently produce viable displays at such sizes and resolutions will find it very hard to compete in the market, IHS believes.
IPS LCD technology soon may encounter some stiff competition.
Japan’s Sharp Corp. has introduced a new oxide material consisting of indium, gallium, and zinc called IGZO that supports high electron mobility—20 to 30 times faster than conventional amorphous silicon (a-Si) technology. Sharp plans to commercialize a TFT LCD using IGZO material by downsizing the transistor and increasing the light transmittance. This will make the display more power efficient and enable higher pixel densities.
IGZO production can be achieved on existing a-Si lines with little modification, making it cost competitive. Sharp plans to manufacture IGZO displays at its eighth-generation a-Si fab in Kameyama, Japan with production expected to start this year.
Another variant of the wide viewing angle technology very similar to IPS LCD is Fringe Field Sequential (FFS) LCD which continues to be used for tablet PC displays. The patent for FFS LCD resides with Taiwanese-based LCD supplier E Ink Corp. (Hydis). However, because of the lack of capacity at E Ink to manufacture larger-sized panels, E Ink licenses this technology to other LCD suppliers, including LG Display.
With the tablet wars ensuing in earnest, the technology that comes out ahead may well determine which display supplier shines brightest in the years to come.
Read More > Tablet PCs and Smartphones Buoy Demand in the Small/Medium Displays Market