Many reports subsequently claimed that Apple’s hierarchy had dismissed Sharp as a supplier; however, Charles Annis, analyst at DisplaySearch, from Kyoto, Japan, suggests now that Sharp might still have a good chance to partner with Apple for the iPad 3.
He reveals that Sharp is already mass producing the IGZO displays and furthermore, there is no commercial IGZO flat panel display available on the market right now. To make the situation even more mysterious, Annis suggests that there is no real reason to be sure that Apple will eventually accept LG Display’s products either for the upcoming iPad 3.
Apple might be eyeing the Sharp’s IGZO technology as its increased brightness, compared to conventional displays, could allow a reduction in the number of backlight LEDs, and hence cost, as well as providing longer battery life - both key factors for super-high-resolution displays on mobile devices.
Annis also mentions that he expects the iPad 3 to start going on sale in April.
By: Radu Tyrsina
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 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 attached. The remaining 5 percent of the tablet display market is split among several smaller firms.
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 becomeone 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.
In the jungles and mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, battles are raging, part of a 13-year-long civil war. Most of the world has paid little attention to the murder and rape that still dominates life in the DRC’s eastern provinces. But U.S. electronics companies like HP, Intel, and Apple recently became deeply interested, thanks to a provision on “conflict minerals” that was slipped into a 2010 financial reform law, the Dodd-Frank Act.
The minerals provision is intended to deprive the Congo’s warlords of funds by cutting off sales from the mines they control. It focuses on the ores that produce the “three Ts”: tin, tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold. Public companies that use these metals in their products will be required to investigate their supply chains, determine if they use metals that were mined in the DRC, and disclose their findings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in their annual reports, and on their websites. If its minerals did originate in the DRC, a company must submit a larger report on whether the purchase of these minerals financed or benefited armed groups in that part of Africa. The SEC is expected to issue final rules for implementing the law before the end of the year, and companies are scrambling to get ready.
While the conflict minerals law applies only to companies that are required to file annual reports in the United States, it’s expected to have an international impact. Since mineral suppliers sell to electronics companies around the world, any change in operations they make for the U.S. market will have ripple effects elsewhere.
The law doesn’t only affect the electronics industry. But the conflict mineral issue has been linked in the public mind to electronics because the three Ts play crucial roles in smartphones, TVs, and laptops. Tin is used in solder and thus found on every circuit board, tantalum is used in capacitors, and tungsten is used in the vibrating motors of many phones.
Electronics companies had been warned that they’d eventually have to account for their use of these minerals. So firms like HP and Intel asked the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, two trade groups, to investigate the industry’s options.
The groups found that it’s extremely difficult to determine the origin of the tantalum used in a certain batch of smartphones. But they also realized that only about 45 smelters worldwide deal with the three Ts, buying the ores from suppliers and turning them into pure metals. After several years of research, the industry groups came up with the Conflict-Free Smelter Program, which is currently in the pilot phase for its first metal, tantalum.
The program asks each smelter to allow an annual independent audit of its mineral procurement process. If the auditors are convinced that no minerals are sourced from the Congo’s conflict mines, that smelter is certified as “conflict free,” allowing companies to buy its metals without worry. While the program is voluntary, EICC spokeswoman Wendy Dittmer says many smelting firms believe it’s in their interest to participate.
“Electronics companies are starting to ask questions all the way down their supply chains,” she says. “That certainly makes the buyers of the minerals very interested in being able to talk about their own due diligence.”
There are concerns that the law may backfire. By making the reporting requirements more onerous for companies that source minerals from the DRC, the law may reduce demand from all DRC mines, even those that aren’t in conflict regions and don’t finance armed groups.
These concerns about such a de facto ban led Motorola Solutions to initiate the Solutions for Hope Project, in which Motorola and several other companies formed a relationship with a conflict-free tantalum mine in the DRC’s Katanga province.
To establish the program, Michael Loch, Motorola’s director of supply-chain corporate responsibility, visited the mine and accompanied a shipment of ore along its export route. “This pilot allows our industry to stay engaged in the area,” says Loch. “We didn’t want to abandon the region.” But he acknowledges that it took a lot of effort to get the process in place for one mine and says it may be difficult to scale up the program.
The pilot programs should provide a framework to make compliance easier. Still, companies around the world are waiting for the SEC’s final rules with some anxiety. And there may be some efforts to block the rules’ enforcement through U.S. courts. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for one, has discussed the possibility of a lawsuit. The chamber disagrees with the SEC’s initial compliance cost estimate of US $71 million, saying that costs will instead be counted in the billions of dollars.
One thing is already certain about the SEC rules: There will be no fines for using conflict minerals. Even so, activists think it will have its intended effect, because companies will want to avoid bad publicity.
“For years we have been unknowing consumers of these minerals because companies have turned a blind eye,” says Sasha Lezhnev, a policy consultant on conflict minerals with the human rights group Enough. “This will enable consumers to make choices on whether or not to buy products from companies that are sourcing from these mines.”
By: ELIZA STRICKLAND