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Fold, extend… Foldable IT device trends seen through exhibition trends

As panel makers have recently accelerated the development of foldable OLEDs, a variety of products, including foldable phones, foldable tablet PCs, and foldable laptops, are being exhibited. We look at the development trend based on the exhibited products of panel makers.

‘Flex Hybrid’ and ‘Slidable Flex Duet’ exhibited by Samsung Display

‘Flex Hybrid’ and ‘Slidable Flex Duet’ exhibited by Samsung Display

At CES 2023, which was held in January, Samsung Display, a leader in foldable displays, exhibited the ‘Flex Hybrid’, a combination of foldable and slider, and the ‘Slidable Flex Solo’, which extends on one side and, the ‘Slidable Flex Duo’, which extends on both sides. In the ‘Flex Hybrid’, the screen expands from the default 8 inches to 10.5 inches when the folded screen is unfolded, and to 12.4 inches when the right side is extended. Sliderable products can expand the screen from the basic 13 to 14 inches to 17 inches.

Prior to this, Samsung Display had exhibited S-type and G-type, double-folding ‘Flex S’ and ‘Flex G’, and ‘Slidable Wide’ that extends outward in 2022, and all three products had a maximum size of 12.4 inches. The size of the prototypes is 12.4 inches, which is the same as Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Tab S8+. When mass-producing actual products, it is expected that mass-production will be carried out according to the needs of set makers.

Foldable OLED for laptops from Samsung Display, LG Display, and BOE

Foldable OLED for laptops from Samsung Display, LG Display, and BOE

In addition to tablet PCs, foldable laptops are also being developed. Samsung Display exhibited the 17.3-inch foldable OLED ‘Flex Note’ for laptops at IMID 2022 and SID 2022. Originally, Samsung Display was expected to supply this 17.3-inch foldable OLED to Samsung Electronics last year, but the schedule was delayed to this year.

LG Display is also developing a foldable OLED for 17.3-inch laptops. LG Display exhibited a 17.3-inch ‘Foldable OLED Laptop’ with an improved folding radius of 1.5R at IMID 2022. LG Display is currently developing foldable OLED for laptops with the goal of supplying HP.

BOE of China is also developing foldable OLED for IT. BOE exhibited a 12.3-inch foldable OLED for tablet PCs that double-folds into an S-type at SID 2022 in May of last year. It also unveiled a foldable OLED for 17.3-inch laptops, and this panel was mounted on Asus’s ‘ZenBook 17 Fold’ released in 2022.

Samsung Display, LG Display, and BOE are all developing foldable OLEDs for notebooks in the same size and resolution. When full-scale mass production begins, competition for panel supply between the three companies is expected to be fierce.

▶ AMOLED Manufacturing Process Report Ver.5 Sample Download

SDC, 4Q2021 The Highest Smartphone Shipments 125 million units, Highest market share of flexible OLED 50.1%

According to UBI Research Weekly Report, Samsung Display’s OLED shipped 480 million units in 2021. The highest number of shipments were in the 4th quarter at 133 million units and the second highest was in the in 3rd quarter at 129 million units.

Samsung Display OLED application products shipped in 2021 were smartphones, watches, tablet PCs notebooks and TVs. OLED for TVs started shipment in the fourth quarter of last year. It was the first OLED for TV shipment in eight years since 2013 when they had discontinued mass production.

Samsung Display OLED for smartphones shipped 456 million units, which was 94% of the total shipments. OLED for watches shipped 14 million units, just 2.9% of the total shipments.

OLED for notebooks had the most significant growth in 2021. 5 million units were shipped, representing a 2.5 times higher growth than the 1.9 million Tablet PC units shipped.

According to a quarterly analysis of Samsung Display smartphones shipments in 2021, 125 million units were shipped in the fourth quarter, showing the highest performance. This is mainly due to high shipments to Apple in the fourth quarter for OLED for iPhone. In 2021, 102 million units of OLED for iPhone were shipped and 45.4 million units were supplied to Apple in the fourth quarter. Therefore, the market share was the highest at 50.1% in the fourth quarter for flexible OLED shipments.

Flexible OLED and rigid OLED shipments were 190 million units and 257 million units respectively in 2021. The annual shipment market share was 41.6% and 56.5% respectively. Foldable OLED shipments were 8.7 million units, a market share of 1.9%.

 

Changes in OLED panel market for smartphones

According to the ‘2018 1Q AMOLED Display Market Track’ published by UBI Research, OLED panel shipments for smartphones are projected to grow at an annual average growth rate of 15.8%, from 450 million units in 2018 to 850 million units by 2022. This is a 9.6% decline from the CAGR 25.4% expected in the fourth quarter of 2017.

<Shipment forecast of OLED panel for smartphones >

The reason shipment forecast of OLED panels for smartphones is declined compared with 4Q,2017 is because smartphone trends have been reflected recently. The smartphone market is sluggish due to the prolonged replacement period of smartphones and the lack of new technology. In addition, the average size of smartphones has enlarged faster than expected, and the size of smartphones is expected to increase gradually with the anticipation for the launch of foldable OLEDs, leading to a slowdown in the shipment growth.

For flexible OLED, ASPs have risen due to the lack of supply, caused by mainly dependent on Samsung Display, and Chinese set makers are burdened by its high prices. As low-priced full-screen LCDs are emerging, it is forecasted that demand for rigid OLEDs will decline since Chinese set makers are adopting more LCDs than OLEDs in rigid smartphones.

Panel makers in Korea and China have aggressively invested in the Gen6 OLED line in 2016 and 2017. Starting this year, however, they are reviewing the investment and operation time frame of mass production lines, with looking into the smartphone demand. As OLED panels for smartphones account for more than 90% of the total OLED panel market, it is an important factor for the investment flow of panel makers.

Meanwhile, ‘2018 1Q AMOLED Display Market Track’ is based on the market performance data and projected system that UBI Research has accumulated over 15 years. It consists of 8 (eight) modules in total: Panel cost analysis, Market forecast, Supply and demand analysis, Market performance (sales), Competitiveness analysis of panel makers, ASP, Supply chain analysis and investment & Mass production line status.

Completed the Construction of CSOT Wuhan Gen6 LTPS OLED Fab

On December 28, CSOT’s Wuhan Gen6 LTPS OLED(T4 fab) production line was announced to be completed four months ahead of schedule. CSOT started building T4 fab in June 2017 and built a factory with a capacity of about 600,000 pyeong(1,983,471 m²) in 199 days. The total investment amount is reported to be 5,080 million dollars.

<CSOT’s T4 Production Line Rendering Image, Source: China Daily>

CSOT’s T4 fab has received attention as China’s first Gen6 flexible LTPS OLED production line. T4 fab is known to have a production capacity of 45,000 units per month, and it is expected to mass-produce small and medium-sized flexible OLEDs and foldable OLEDs.

Meanwhile, CSOT said that the next step is to build clean rooms and have equipment and they aim to start producing in 2019.

Flexible OLED Leading the OLED Panel Market from 2019

■ Flexible OLED is expected to ship 480 million units in 2019, surpassing Rigid OLED shipments.

■ Full-screen OLED among Flexible OLED is expected to have an average market share of 78.3% by 2022, dominating the market.

■ Foldable OLED is expected to ship in earnest from 2019.

Flexible OLED shipments are expected to exceed rigid OLED shipments in 2019. According to the ‘2017 Flexible OLED Annual Report’ published by Ubi Research, flexible OLEDs are expected to ship 480 million units in 2019, surpassing 409 million units of rigid OLED shipments. In addition, flexible OLED shipments will grow at a CAGR of 41% starting in 2018, reaching 1,285 million units in 2022 with forecasted revenue of US$ 59.4 billion.

<OLED Market Share Forecast by Substrate in 2018 ~ 2022>

Recently, as the hardware technology of mobile devices has been leveled up, set makers targeting the premium market are trying to differentiate their products by adopting OLED. Especially, set makers are beginning to introduce flexible OLED capable of full screen, as the needs of consumers who want a wider screen in mobile devices (even in the same sizes) on the increase.

 

Accordingly, panel makers are continuing to invest in flexible OLED mass production. Since Chinese panel makers such as BOE, CSOT and Visionox are expected to start mass production of Gen6 flexible OLED starting in 2018, flexible OLED shipments will likely grow at an average growth rate of 59% per annum, reaching 354 million units by 2022.

 

This report compares the structure and process of rigid OLED and flexible OLED, and analyzes the trends of technology development for foldable OLED implementation by layer. It also compares the flexible OLED application technology of Samsung Electronics, Apple, and LG Electronics which released mobile devices with full screen OLED. The report also forecasts the flexible OLED market from 2018 to 2022 by categorizing into various perspectives including flexible type, country and generation.

 

According to the report, full screen OLEDs of flexible OLEDs will ship 265 million units in 2018 with a market share of 82.1%, and 1,022 million shipments will be made in 2022, accounting for 79.5% of the market, leading the flexible OLED market. In addition, the foldable OLED, which has been receiving a great deal of attention recently, is expected to ship 5 million units from 2019 and 53 million units by 2022.

<Foldable OLED Shipment Forecast in 2018~ 2022>

 

Is Samsung Display Moving To the Gen 7 for A4 Line?

Samsung Display’s ongoing extension of flexible OLED line is highly expected to move to the gen 7 production line.

An OLED specialized research company, UBI Research CEO Choong Hoon Yi(senior analysis) analyzed the names of Samsung Display’s plants have changed by generation so A4 line will be able to increase to the gen 7.

The OLED plants owned by Samsung Display consist of A1, A2, and A3. A1 line is the gen 4 plant, A2 is the gen 5.5, and A3 is the gen 6 plant. LCD’s 7-1 line that is being recently converted is reportedly named A3E which is the follow-up of A3.

Therefore, the CEO Choong Hoon Yi forecast A4 will become the gen 7 line, in light of this trend.

To this end, he looks squarely at some issues to overcome. Firstly, it needs to secure excimer laser, the prerequisite for LTPS-TFT and doping apparatus because production equipment still remains the gen 6. But, Yi thought there is no problem in securing equipment and developing process up to the gen 7, as Samsung Display has been operating the gen 8 LTPS-TFT to produce 55-inch OLED panels for TV.

In addition, he analyzed it would be also possible to manufacture the FMM of the gen 7 half, required for the OLED deposition process. Samsung Display’s sole supplier of FMM, DNP made an investment in manufacturing facilities last year. Although the details of investment haven’t been well-known, it already has a stepper that can manufacture a mask of gen 7 half.

Lastly, when it comes to the validity of investment in Samsung Display’s gen 7, a differentiated production strategy is a key issue, according to Yi. Recently, companies that got into the business late are investing in the gen 6 OLED line, and in a few years their equipment productivity will be as good as Samsung Display’s. In his point of view, it is very meaningful to invest in the gen 7 line in order to stand out from new comers once again.

Samsung Display is already building various portfolios such as foldable OLED, COP(chip on plastic)OLED, and OLED with 800ppi high-resolution even at the R&D stage. The addition of the gen 7 production strategy to its R&D strategy incomparable with late comers will further raise its competitiveness.