Ever since Apple made the switch to OLED panels with the iPhone X series in 2017, it has relied on Samsung to source a 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 manufacturer of OLED panels, with LG coming in a distant second.
This changed in 2020 when Apple signed up 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 may finally see BOE increase the number of displays it makes for Apple. It is also likely to meet the stringent quality standards set by Apple so its screens can end up on the future top-tier iPhone 15 Pro model.
A rocky start
Even though BOE has been an Apple supplier for a long time, having supplied LCD panels in the past, its entry into the exclusive club of OLED manufacturers was a significant milestone in the company’s history. To reduce its dependence on a single supplier for something as crucial as the display, Apple inked a deal with LG Display to supply it with OLED panels. LG’s production capacity, however, hasn’t been able to scale up or even come close to Samsung’s levels — and Apple’s expectations. Unsurprisingly, until 2020, 80% of Apple products with an OLED panel used Samsung panels, with the other 20% using LG-made displays.
Things did not start too well for BOE, though, after Apple was reportedly unhappy with the quality of the initial batch of BOE-made panels intended for some iPhone 12 models. Nevertheless, following initial hiccups, BOE eventually managed to supply a sizable number of 6.06-inch OLED panels to Apple — most of which found their way onto Apple’s lower-priced iPhone 12 series and the current iPhone 13 series.
Apple’s decision not to use BOE-made panels for the top-tier 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 perfecting its LTPO capabilities, it is unlikely that we’ll see BOE-made panels on the top-tier iPhone 14 models in 2022. In fact, reports already indicate that panels for the top-tier iPhone 14 models will primarily come from Samsung — with a tiny percentage supplied by LG.
The tipping point
According to the South Korean publication The Elec, BOE’s moment of glory is likely to come in 2023. The company is reportedly working steadfastly to ensure that its OLED panels will match the quality standards set by Apple. It aims to chip away a sizable share from LG and Samsung that year and supply LTPO OLED panels for future iPhone 15 Pro models.
Apart from taking measures to improve its quality, BOE has also been aggressively expanding and modernizing its production facilities. This includes an entirely new assembly line for making flexible OLEDs, which is expected to open in multiple phases across 2023.
Things are looking great for BOE even in 2022, with Apple expected to use close to 50 million BOE-made panels for the iPhone 14 series. This will account for a healthy 20% of Apple’s OLED requirement. At current growth rates, BOE is likely to beat LG Display and become Apple’s second-biggest OLED panel supplier in 2022. And given its breakneck growth, even Samsung’s coveted status as the largest iPhone display supplier may well be within reach in a few years.