Confusion reigns about the iPad 5, which recently was predicted to be released in both the spring and fall of 2013. Only in the iOSphere is this depth of confusion liberating.
Also this week, confusion between oxide and organic and what it means for Real Innovation in Apple's iPad displays. But whatever, iPad 5 will be way thinner and lighter.
You read it here second.
iPad 5 will have an awesome new display screen technology, of one kind or another
The Korea Times published a somewhat confusing story this week, perhaps because it was in English, about LG Display's ambitions to become an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display colossus. And by adding a reference to Apple, KT ensured that its story would become enshrined in the iOSphere.
[ MORE SCUTTLEBUTT: iPhone 6 rumor rollup for the week ending Jan. 18 ]
LG Display is planning to spend about $3.6 billion in 2013 (about what it spent last year) on OLED technologies and facilities. KT implies this is part of an aggressive strategy to make OLED a standard technology on everything from mobile devices to massive flat-panel TVs. The story notes that OLED offers higher-quality images and lower power consumption compared to today's dominant conventional LCD displays.
"Of our investment budget, OLEDs will take up the biggest slice of money, followed by research for flexible displays and oxide-based LCD technologies,'' an LG Display official told The Korea Times.
Without being an expert in OLED or display technology, it's still possible to get the basic idea: The company wants to be a player and is putting up some big bucks to be one.
Then KT adds this, without any attribution or references: "The company's commitment to oxide-based LCD manufacturing is noteworthy and points to rising orders from top device makers like Apple. Oxide LCDs are thinner and more power efficient than current LCDs and has been an area where Apple has been strengthening its investment. Industry observers believe there is a possibility that Apple will apply these screens on its next version of the iPad at the earliest."
And if nameless "industry observers" didn't believe that before, they're sure likely to now.
PatentlyApple.com marveled over this "great little nugget of information," summing its conclusion up in the headline to its post: "Apple may Advance to Oxide-Based LCD Displays in 2013."
Macworld UK's Karen Haslam apparently might have thought that the "O" in "OLED" refers to oxide instead of organic. She picked up on both posts and concluded that "Apple may use oxide-based LCD screens for a next generation iPad 5 with a 'stunning' screen ..." She mentions that LG Display is planning a "massive investment in the new technology," even though the KT story clearly revealed the investment to be in organic light-emitting diode technology, not metal oxide thin film transistors (TFTs).
The Rollup is not a display technology specialist. From what we understand, the use of metal oxide is one emerging option that can be used in TFTs, which form a sheet or layer that actually drives all the pixels on a high-resolution display. This TFT backplane can be paired with either LCD or OLED technology. Metal oxide's real benefit is much higher "electron mobility," which is critical to let screens support high definition and high refresh rates. One oxide in particular, indium gallium zinc oxide, has been widely rumored for many months as about to be used in the Next iPad, or Next iPhone's display.
According to Wikipedia, "An OLED display works without a backlight. Thus, it can display deep black levels and can be thinner and lighter than a liquid crystal display (LCD)." No backlight is needed because in OLED, the "emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound which emits light in response to an electric current."
But, according to this blog post at Applied Materials, a vendor that builds manufacturing equipment for semiconductor and flat-panel display vendors, OLED displays on smartphones and tablets are not good candidates for metal oxide.
"Because each pixel of an OLED emits light directly, without the need for a backlight, each pixel requires two transistors," writes Applied Materials' Kerry Cunningham. "One is used to switch the pixel on and off, and one to control the current fed to the pixel. The problem is that metal oxide transistors aren't stable enough for this application. This causes unpleasant pixel-to-pixel variations that can be visible to the viewer. ... That's why OLED screens for mobile applications use more stable LTPS [low temperature polysilicon] backplanes instead."
"In 2010 at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference, Jobs touted Retina Display, which relies on traditional silicon LED technology," he wrote. "Jobs said, 'You can't make an OLED display with this resolution, we think it is quite superior.'"
It still seems to be. The iPad 4, released in November 2012, had the same Retina Display as its predecessor: 9.7-inch screen, 2048 x 1536 pixels. But in his review of the latest iPad, Anand Lal Shimpi, writing at his AnandTech blog, noted, "The real advantage however is color accuracy thanks to Apple's factory calibration on all of its devices with an integrated display." With Apple's factory-calibrated displays, you get "appreciably better color accuracy than any other tablet on the market today," Shimpi concluded. And the newest iPad "offers over other iPads ... a much better text reading experience. Individual letters look so much smoother."
His conclusions were echoed by colleague Chris Heinonen in his review of the iPhone 5. "The iPhone 5 display is a quantum leap better than the display on the iPhone 4. Contrast levels and light output have both been increased, and color performance is astonishing," Heinonen wrote. "While many were hoping for a move to OLED or some other screen innovation, this really is a huge step up that is very easy to quantify. To put this in perspective, in the past few years I've reviewed probably 30-40 different displays, from PC monitors to TVs to projectors. Not a single one, out of the box, can put up the Gretag Macbeth dE numbers [a color checker measurement] that the iPhone can, and perhaps one projector (which listed for $20,000) can approach the grayscale and color accuracy out of the box."
Apparently you really can innovate without using what the Conventional Wisdom tells us are innovative technologies.
iPad 5 will be "significantly" thinner and lighter
That's according to the latest Note to Investors by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, whose expeculations (a cross of "expectations" and "speculations") were picked up by, among others, AppleInsider's Neil Hughes.
Kuo apparently believes that the full-size iPad 5 will be taking a bunch of design cues from the smaller iPad mini, unveiled in October, such as a much thinner and lighter body, and a narrower border around the display.
But don't hold your breath: "Kuo has forecast Apple to release a new full-size iPad in the third quarter of 2013," according to Hughes. That would be about a year after the unexpected revelation, at the iPad mini event, that Apple was releasing a fourth-generation iPad, fitted with the new Lightning dock connector and an upgraded A6X processor, about six months after it unveiled the third-generation iPad.
The only problem with this time frame? Dueling NTIs.
Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White wrote in his own Note to Investors earlier this month that he expeculates that "Apple will release the iPad 5 and the second-generation iPad Mini this March," according to International Business Times' Dave Smith, who also repeated Kuo's predictions.
White does agree with Kuo that iPad 5 will be "lighter and thinner" than iPad 4, and that the next iPad mini's form factor "should be similar" to the first one.
Since the fourth-generation iPad, there's been increasingly febrile rumors that Apple is shifting to a new cycle of releasing products every six months instead of every 12. But the only product so far that might, or might not, reveal that shift is the iPad 4, with its boosted processor and several other very real but conservative improvements.
iMore's Rene Ritchie argues perceptively, drawing on what we can actually see in current Apple products, that the future iPad 5 will likely draw its design cues from the combination of new "design language" and manufacturing processes that appeared in the iPhone 5, and have passed to other Apple mobile products.
"It's what let them make the iPhone 5, and it's what let them make the exquisite, and very similar looking iPad mini, iPod touch 5, and iPod nano," Ritchie writes. "It's what made for unified, ultra-thin, ultra-light, ultra-high precision, anodized aluminum unibodies with tighter curves, smaller bezels, and pixels so close to the surface it's like you're really touching them."
It makes sense, he concludes, for Apple to bring these same qualities, features and attributes to the next full-size iPad.
A 3D designer by the name of Martin uit Utrecht has created photorealistic images that reveal how such a thinner iPad 5 might compare to iPad 4 and iPad mini.
iPad 5 won't be announced because everyone will want an iPad mini instead
In the latest rumor from unnamed "industry sources," the former news service Reuters reports that Sharp Corp. has cut -- sharply -- its production of iPad 9.7-inch screens.
Two unnamed "industry sources" claim that Sharp's iPad screen production line, at a central Japan factory, "has fallen to the minimal level to keep the line running this month after a gradual slowdown began at the end of 2012 as Apple manages its inventory.
"The exact level of remaining screen output at Sharp was not immediately clear but it was extremely limited, they said."
Needless to say, neither Sharp nor Apple had any comment.
Then there's this: "The sources didn't say exactly why production had nearly halted." This is subtle way of saying, "We forgot to ask them about this," or, "They kept giving us the run-around on this."
Unlike much of the iOSphere, Reuters deserves credit for naming several explanations for the drop in orders to Sharp. These include: "a seasonal drop in demand, a switch to another supplier, a shift in the balance of sales to the mini iPad, or an update in the design of the product."
Or even two or more of these answers together.
This isn't quite as bad as the now-notorious recent Wall Street Journal story [reviewed by our iOnApple blog] that claimed Apple had slashed its Q2 FY 2013 orders for the iPhone 5 display and other components by half from the original 60-65 million units, due to falling consumer demand.
That original number was way above what one would expect historically, and way above what a wide range of stock market and industry analysts were projecting for Q1 sales (ending Dec. 31, 2012). The final number announced this week by Apple: 47.8 million, another record.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnww Email: [email protected]
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