Japan's Sharp begins mass production of IGZO displays amid rumors of Apple use

The new technology will allow for thinner tablets and mobile devices with high-resolution screens

Sharp said Friday it has begun mass production of displays using IGZO (indium, gallium, zinc) technology, which analysts have said is a prime candidate for use in upcoming Apple products including its rumored smart TV.

The Japanese manufacturer, which is one of the world's largest producers of LCD panels, said it is now shipping samples of the displays meant for monitors, notebook PCs, and tablets. Sharp began producing displays using the technology last month at one if its massive factories in Kameyama, in central Japan about 300 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, and said Friday it has ramped up manufacturing to meet market demand.

Sharp said the new technology allows for twice the detail of existing panels at the same transparency, which means high-resolution devices can be designed that require less power and space for backlighting. The company said the new displays cut power consumption by up to 90 percent versus those currently in use.

Less lighting and smaller battery requirements allow for thinner devices, and analysts have said Apple will use IGZO displays in its upcoming products, including its highly-anticipated entry into the smart TV market.

Sharp, which like many Japanese electronics firms has suffered massive financial losses recently, originally constructed its factories to make massive panels suited for large-screen TVs. Profits tumbled amid falling demand and cheaper competition, although in some markets including the U.S. the company still sells TV models at up to 80 inches with marketing slogans like "Magnormous."

It is now retooling its production lines to focus more on smaller panels aimed at smartphones and tablets, and is focusing on advanced technologies where profit margins are higher.

Sharp has also turned to outside investors. Last month, Hon Hai Precision Industry, the parent company of Foxconn Electronics and a core manufacturer of Apple products, invested US$806 million in Sharp and took a major share in a factory that produces mainly large panels for TV screens.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service

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