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Counterclockwise: OLED screens challenge old-fashioned LCDs

The cathode ray tube was revolutionary – it brought screens to the home, before it you had to go to the cinema to watch a movie. In the last couple of decades CRT was displaced by LCD – liquid crystal displays – but now LCDs themselves are under attack from OLED – organic light emitting diodes.

Our poll shows that people prefer OLED, but since its a relatively new tech, few phones use this type of display. Samsung was an early mover in the field with 2004s X120, which had a 1.8 OLED display with 128 x 128 pixel resolution. The number of OLED-packing phones has grown significantly since then but the mobile field is still dominated by LCD.

Heres a chart showing the slow rise of OLED from the couple of phones in 2004 to nearly a hundred in 2015 and 2016. Surprisingly, 2017 saw half that number. Note that this chart shows the number of phone models with OLED screens released rather than number of units sold.

Counterclockwise: OLED screens challenge old-fashioned LCDs

The number of phones sold will depend on the segment. In the high end, phones like Samsungs Galaxy S and Note as well as Apples iPhone X sell millions. In the low and mid range, the cheaper LCDs are more prevalent.

Theres an issue with supplies – or rather with suppliers. Samsung essentially owns the market, it had as much as 95.8% market share at the end of 2015.

Since then, LG has started beefing up production lines with financial infusions from Apple and Google. Chinese companies are trying to challenge Koreas dominance with the likes of BOE (which is allegedly the screen supplier for the Honor V10. Apple is reportedly interested too).

Note that we removed smartwatches from the stats for the chart. There the picture is the complete opposite – very few LCDs, mostly OLEDs. This stems from the power efficiency of OLED (especially when displaying a black background as most smartwatches do). Also, OLED can be built on a variety of substrates, making it easier to create various shapes – circles, squircles, curves and cutouts.

Will all phones have OLED screens one day? Not impossible, as OLED screens are thinner and have much better sunlight legibility (the power saving is important too). And with manufacturers current fascination with non-rectangular shapes, LCD will find it harder to compete.

But will OLED itself be replaced one day? There was talk that Apple is considering micro-LED – a similar technology but without the organic part. Instead, classic LEDs are used which can be pushed to a much higher brightness (a typical weak spot for OLED) and at a better power efficiency to boot.

But for now with Samsung, Apple, LG, Google, Huawei, OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo, Motorola, Asus, Meizu and others making many (typically mid to high-end) phones, OLEDs future is secure.