More indication that a June iPhone 5 release is increasingly unlikely came late last week in a Digitimes report that Taiwanese Apple OEM suppliers TPK Holding and Wintek are anticipating a 15-20% sequential decline in their shipments of touch panels for iPhones the second quarter, “as iPhone 4S is moving into the final stage of its product life cycle.”
That certainly doesn’t sound like Apple is ramping up production of a new model iPhone for a June release. For some context, component production for the third-generation iPad was well underway by early December 2011 in preparation for the product’s March ’12 release.
On the other hand, Digitimes reporters Siu Han and Steve Shen note that according to unnamed industry insider sources, Apple is likely to adopt in-cell touch solutions for its next-generation model, projected for release in the third quarter of 2012.
Of course TPK and Wintek panel production metrics likely only relate directly to iPhone 4 and 4S sales volumes, since as we reported here last month, Apple is expected to source the new iPhone’s in-cell touch panels from Japanese OEMs Sharp and Toshiba Mobile Display (TMD) — not the two Taiwanese firms.
Han and Shen note that Apple’s adoption of in-cell touch, which incorporates the touch layer as part of the panel itself rather than an independent module, will mean that conventional touch module suppliers TPK and Wintek not be receiving touch module orders for the next-generation iPhone, although they should still get some Apple business in continuing to supply panels for the iPhone 4S — which will presumably remain in production at reduced volumes as Apple’s entry-level handset. The article notes that combined shipments of touch panels from TPK and Wintek to Apple in the second half of 2012 are expected to equal only one-third of the volume shipped by the two companies in the year’s first half.
In an earlier article, Han and Shen reported that TPK says it’s developing TOL (touch on lens) single-glass touch solutions, which will be more suitable for the production of high-end customized devices, and that the market will accommodate more than one technology.
However, Focus Taiwan’s Jeffrey Wu reported that Taiwanese OEMs have pretty much conceded iPhone 5 screen supply to their Japanese competition due to the latter firms’ in-cell technology development lead, with the new iPhone unlikely to benefit Taiwanese panel makers.
Wu also noted that compared with the older “on-cell” technology, in-cell touch panels can be made thinner, because the touch sensors are actually placed inside the color filters rather than on top of them. That bodes well for Apple’s presumed efforts to make the new iPhone thinner while incorporating more advanced technologies and feature enhancements. As we noted in the previous report, Redmond Pie’s Paul Paliath says in-cell technology integrates touch functionality into the TFT (thin-film transistor) manufacturing process, eliminating the need for additional glass, which not only reduces manufacturing costs but can facilitate development of a thinner and lighter device altogether.
According to AU Optronics Corp. , two kinds of in-cell multi-touch panel technologies they unveiled back in 2007 integrate touch function features into the TFT-LCD manufacturing process without adding an additional glass. Consequently, it was possible to to retain a glass thickness of 2.2mm with a resolution of 480 x 272 – thinner than conventional touch panel applications. The AUO in-cell panels are also claimed to have superior anti-glare properties to retain proper image color saturation and be readable even in bright sunlight, to eliminate the inconvenience of frequently-required calibration of conventional touch panel applications, and feature real-time true multiple touch point detection which allows users to easily slide their fingers on the screen to better enjoy the touch panel experience.
By Michael Nace