With 95 percent of the market in its grip, Samsung Display’s position as the superpower of OLED industry seems unassailable.
But competitors – chief among them LG Display – are arming themselves to challenge Samsung. Tens of billions are at stake, as the world’s top manufacturers vie to secure OLED screens for hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets, and wearables.
LG Display is said to be in talks with Apple for a deal worth more than $2.5 billion that would see the Korean company dedicate an entire new OLED manufacturing line to the iPhone maker.
Apple could invest between $1.75 billion and $2.62 billion to fund LG Display’s upcoming E6 plant, industry sources told The Investor. LG is currently buying equipment that would allow it to produce up to 60,000 OLED panel substrates every month at the plant. The E6 facility would be LG’s third OLED plant. The company is already making flexible OLED displays for Apple Watch on a 4.5-gen pilot line, and is currently ramping up production at its E5 facility.
LG Display and Apple have “tentatively agreed” on the deal, but the specifics are yet to be finalized. A final decision is expected later this month, The Investor said.
Apple is actually the second Silicon Valley giant rumored to pour money into LG’s display unit. In April, Korean media reported that Google could invest roughly $880 million in order to secure OLED production capacity from LG Display. The Korean company acknowledged the talks with Google, but said the deal was not complete.
Why are Google and Apple so keen to secure LG Display’s favors, at such a hefty price? It’s, quite predictably, a matter of supply and demand. OLED demand will skyrocket in the next years, and LG Display is one of the handful of companies that could break Samsung’s near-monopoly on the market.
Samsung is not sitting idle, of course. The conglomerate is spending heavily on new production facilities, including the largest OLED factory in the world. In anticipation of Apple and other phone makers switching en masse to OLED, Samsung is eager to cash in on its decades-long bet on OLED technology. The rise of foldable devices (which will use larger displays) and a desire to raise the barrier of entry for Chinese competitors are two other reasons why Samsung is further pouring money into OLED.
LG, Google, and Apple are all rumored to take on the Galaxy Note with new OLED smartphones launching this autumn. But that market confrontation might be just a small skirmish in the grand scheme of things, as the OLED arms race is heating up.