The cathode ray tube was ground-breaking as it brought
screens to the home, before it people 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 it’s a
relatively new tech, few phones use this type of display. Samsung was an early
mover in the field with 2004’s 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.
Here’s 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.
The number of phones sold will depend on the segment. In the
high end, phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note as well as Apple’s iPhone X
sell millions. In the low and mid-range, the cheaper LCDs are more prevalent.
There’s 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 Korea’s dominance with the likes of BOE (which is allegedly the
screen supplier for the Honor
. Apple is reportedly interested too).

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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 manufacturer’s 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, OLED’s future is secure.


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