Why Apple may ship just one OLED iPhone next year

Display supply might not meet Apple's demand.

Long-time Apple watchers have speculated that next year’s iPhones will move from LCD to OLED displays, but this week a strange rumor emerged from a reliable Apple analyst: Next year, Apple will release three iPhones, and only one of them will have an OLED display.

Now we know why that could be. Apple would love to bring OLED to its entire iPhone lineup, but the supply isn’t there, Bloomberg reported. OLED display makers Samsung, Sharp, LG, and Japan Display are working to produce panels, but Sharp and Japan Display won’t kick production into high gear until 2018. LG is also lagging after spending years making OLED displays for television.

According to Bloomberg, that leaves Samsung, which has an exclusive agreement to produce OLED displays for iPhones next year. But Apple sells a ton of phones: The company has reportedly put in an order for 100 million units to prep for next year’s holiday quarter, and Samsung might not be able to make enough. It might not even be able to produce half that amount. Last year, Apple sold 75 million iPhones over the holidays, and if Samsung can’t pull through, then the company won’t be able to put OLED displays in every phone.

The 10th anniversary OLED iPhone

Apple is reportedly prepping an all-glass 5.5-inch iPhone with an edge-to-edge OLED display. The company plans to ditch the bezel and embed the Home button directly in the screen. (Am I the only one envisioning the Monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? OK, carry on.)

If Apple introduced OLED in just one model of the next-generation iPhone, it would be a surprising departure, though not without precedent—with the iPhone 7 Plus, the company put a dual-lens camera system in just one phone. But displays are a different story. An edge-to-edge OLED screen would fundamentally change the iPhone experience.

Of course, display suppliers could come through and enable Apple to overhaul its entire lineup. But with this week’s spate of rumors, it seems like the company is establishing expectations for a lone OLED iPhone.

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Caitlin McGarry

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