One would think that the thinnest display would lead to the thinnest display module -- where the module includes the peripheral structures and components used to integrate the display into the phone. However, the TechInsights Teardown team found in our sample of high-end phones that there was almost a reverse correlation between panel thickness and module thickness.
Moreover, our research leads us to believe that, by adopting new display capabilities (e.g. stylus support) and improved capabilities (faster refresh, lower power consumption), there is a display module thickness penalty.
Pixel density vs. cost
As well, one would expect that the most costly display modules would yield the best display resolution. Surprisingly, this is also not the case.
This was one of the most interesting observations resulting from our comparison of the five devices in terms of type of technology (resolution), Z height, and cost. Graphing the resolution (pixel density) versus the cost and then comparing to the Z height showed that three of the providers paid approximately 45 percent more for approximately 45 percent less in pixels/sqmm.
What could explain this interesting set of tradeoffs that yielded the unanticipated resolution/cost results? TechInsights speculates that pixel density has reached a point where it is no longer a competitive differentiation from the perception of the end user. Therefore, the consideration is more about the durability and capabilities of the display to provide a better experience by maintaining durability and improving battery life through lower power consumption. In the case of Samsung, the focus on developing a AMOLED with lower pixel density is based on its focus on providing longer screen life and extend usage through better power management.
The future of displays
Though not yet in use in any of the above phones, we recently uncovered a new display technology entering the market -- indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) -- used in Sharp's Aquos Zeta phone.
The new display technology was jointly developed by Sharp and Semiconductor Energy Laboratories and has the potential to deliver higher resolutions, faster display rates, lower power, and flexible displays. We expect the modules for this to be larger than the AMOLED and likely will initially cost more to integrate into our devices. However, the flexibility of the screen should lend itself (and the systems that use it) to command a premium price in the quickly evolving wearable electronics markets, as well in devices designed to take advantage of a more durable design.
The complete report "Display Technology on Smartphones: Its Effect on Packing, Resolution, and Cost" is available at www.techinsights.com.
The smartphone display market continues to bring advancements in technologies that provide better features, greater visibility, and lower power consumption. In our analysis of these top five smartphones, we evaluated how different system manufacturers are using current technologies to reduce costs, optimize power consumption, and create interactive displays tuned to other features that differentiate their device. We found that there were no consistent trends in the Z height of the display or the final model cost. The acute variation leads us to believe that, while the phone manufacturers are undoubtedly cost conscious, there is more room to find even more savings while continuing to deliver a robust user experience.
— TechInsights provides intellectual property consulting, patent brokerage services, and technical analysis. The company is headquartered in Ottawa.