Everyone has been talking about Apple’s potential change from LED/LCD to OLED technology in the upcoming iPhone 8.
Supposedly, OLED will only come to the iPhone 8 Plus model where the standard & “budget” versions will still use LED/LCD screens.
There hasn’t been any official announcement from Apple, so you could still call it a rumor.
Usually, I prefer to wait to comment until such rumors turn more factual but enough 3rd party manufacturing sources including Foxconn and the CEO of Sharp have let bits of information out to strengthen the probability that OLED is positively in the pipeline.
How big of a deal is it?
In comparison, just imagine if 1/2 of new model cars reverted to non-gasoline electric powered engines overnight.
In the world of cell phone repair, a similar change would be drastic enough to shake things up quite a bit.
In this article, I’ll explain how OLED technology is likely to impact the supply chain of LCD replacement parts, their cost and availability with statistics from previous cell phones with similar LCD and OLED technology.
LED/LCD Replacement Price Trend
Let’s hop right into the numbers for LED/LCD type screens (iPhone) that have been used in the past.
Traditionally, LCD screen prices start very high once a model is released because true new OEM (which are scarce) are all that’s available until cracked screens cycle through and refurbished product can enter back into the market (shown below).
Above shows a typical downward trend on new screen prices as soon as refurbished screens make their way back into the market.
Copies are introduced once prices stabilize and result in a 47% price decrease in all 3 screen types.
Next, let’s take a look at the i6 which was released at the same time as the i6+ to loo for any similarities.
Prices do trend upwards from interval 3-6 yet remain much lower when two versions (new/refurbished) are available rather than just having new available in interval 1.
The key point to notice is a 38% price decrease for new and refurbished screens when copies hit the market during interval 7.
Next, let’s look further back at iPhone 5 series to see if the same trend can be found in previously released versions.
iPhone 5/5c/5s refurbished initially drove price down but then began an upward trend similar to i6. This is most likely due to higher demand because the LCD screens could be used for other models within the same series.
Similarly, new and refurbished costs decreased by an average of 48% when copies were introduced during interval 5.
*NOTE – The data in all 3 charts were recorded during the same date periods. i5 had already been out some time so this is why new price is lower and why refurbished is available in interval 1.
AMOLED/OLED Price Trends
First, it’s important to distinguish that Samsung has used AMOLED in all of it’s latest flagships where the news only suggest iPhone will use OLED technology.
For simplicity AMOLED is just a variant of an OLED screen and have virtually the same hardware with only a minor variation on the software side including how an image is displayed. No difference that would alter the comparison and certainty identical enough for comparison.
Using the car example we used earlier, OLED to AMOLED would simply be using regular gas vs premium, yet both are still using the same gasoline type combustion process and both types of fuel can be run through the same engine.
How will Samsung’s OLED screen prices compare?
- New OEM – It’s not charted because so few are initially available. Higher manufacturing costs for OLED mean less new OEM’s will make it into the grey market. The ones that do are so expensive they just don’t make sense for a parts supplier to carry or for a consumer to pay the parts + labor price to repair their phone.
- Copies are scarce – There wasn’t enough consistent supply to chart copies because of their sporadic availability. It’s much more difficult and expensive to create a copy OLED LCD screen. Shortages of OLED machines are already a problem for Samsung where the LED/LCD machines are plentiful and cost effective. Even if the machines were available, the higher production cost would make the practicality of creating a copy very risky business for a manufacturer.
- Refurbished – Re-manufactured OEM screens are the only practical means for creating replacement OLED’s.
With no cost effective OEM and insufficient copies available, price tend to stay high and flat for significantly longer periods compared to LED/LCD type screens.
OLED Refurbishing Yields
Flat out, OLED screens just have a much higher failure rate before and during the refurbishment process and decreases the total available amount of replacement parts that can be produced. Why?
- Thin – The number of layers in an OLED is far less than LED/LCD. Both require a pixel and a transistor layer but an LED/LCD thickens with backlight, glass filter, diffusor and a polarizer. These extra layers provide some means of protection and without them, OLED’s are just more prone to irreparable damage on the LCD layer.
- Screen Burn – Anyone who repairs Samsung devices is sure to recall the high percentage of screen burns from the top notification bar. While this one is common, other areas of screen burn are more likely to show up and reduce the number of screens that can be returned back as refurbished in the best possible condition.
- Curved Screens – TV’s seemed to do it just because they could but was really a confusing selling point to consumers. It’s the same way with phones yet many models including the “Edge” line from Samsung have been very popular. iPhone 8+ is rumored to include a curved screen so it’s practical to consider the possibility of them being used more in the future.
A curved glass layer is much more difficult to refurbish without breaking the LCD layer. Replacement glass parts are also more expensive to manufacture and harder to install.
OLED screens are likely coming to iPhone 8+ and without a doubt will be used across the board in future iPhones and tablets.
Limited copies and lower refurbishing yields on OEM OLED parts will cause pricing for replacement parts to be much higher for longer periods or time. Consistent availability from one supplier to the next will also be more challenging.
DIY in-house refurbishing has been easier with past OLED Samsung models but the additional challenges associated with refurbishing curved screens are very likely to diminish this opportunity.
Apple (and Samsung) could easily make more parts available to 3rd parties but is very unlikely knowing their past history so change is imminent.
*Data from charts above included an average of parts cost from 4 reliable suppliers with consistent updates to pricing over the period charted.
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