A new report claims that Apple could tap Samsung’s manufacturing expertise for future generations of the iPhone. In and of itself, that’s nothing new, but instead of manufacturing an SoC with the Korean company, Apple might want to buy into Samsung’s OLED display technology. That would be a marked shift from several years ago, when Tim Cook blasted OLED technology as fundamentally inferior to the iPhone’s display.
Then again, at the time, Cook was right. OLED technology has continued to evolve in the nearly three years since Cook made his statements. The best way to evaluate the relative position of each technology is through the extensive database of information available at DisplayMate. While Dr. Soneira hasn’t directly compared the Galaxy Note 5 against the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, he uses a standard series of tests that allow for some homegrown comparison between the two.
Scroll through each report, and you’ll find that each device has a few areas where it wins out over the other. OLED displays have excellent off-angle viewing, the iPhone’s image contrast is slightly better, but the Galaxy Note 5 has better color accuracy. Overall, the Note 5 takes home an A in this category, compared to the iPhone 6 Plus’s A-. The iPhone 6 family is much brighter (good for direct sunlight), and reflects very slightly less light.
Power consumption is where things get particularly interesting. According to Dr. Soneira’s data, the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 5 are fairly well matched. Note that the displays are of two different sizes — the Note 5’s total screen area is 13.7 sq. inches, compared to 12.9 sq. inches for the iPhone 6 Plus. Even so, the two compare well — the Galaxy Note 5 has an average power level far lower than that of the iPhone 6 Plus. True, Apple’s current LCD technology wins the maximum power comparison, but how many people regularly set their device to a blank white background? Not many.
We contacted Dr. Soneira for additional information on this potential match-up. He notes that “The OLED / LCD Power Efficiency Crossover is currently at 67 percent APL (Average Picture Level): The OLED display on the Galaxy Note 5 is more power efficient for APLs less than 67 percent, and the LCD display on the iPhone 6 Plus is more power efficient for APLs greater than 67 percent.” Power efficiency will also be different between the red, green, and blue primaries, which is why Dr. Soneira compares peak whiteness as opposed to a different color.
It’s interesting to note how the Note displays have evolved compared to the iPhone. The Note 5 uses 6% less power than the Note 4 at the same brightness level and 17% less power at maximum brightness. Overall efficiency is roughly 21% better at the same screen size. The iPhone 6 Plus, in contrast, was slightly less efficient than the iPhone 5 (relative to screen size).
Given that Apple already uses LTPS (low temperature polysilicon) for its iPhone displays, the company may well be looking for additional advances that can cut power consumption and improve overall display quality. Whether that will translate into tapping Samsung for future displays remains to be seen. Hypersatured backgrounds and vibrant colors are a hallmark of Samsung’s Galaxy and Note products, while Apple typically prefers a color balance that tilts slightly towards blue. We suspect that any agreement between the two would require that Apple not tune its LCDs to look overly much like Samsung’s hardware (not that Cupertino is likely to wish to do so in any case).
Of course, the flip side to this is that evaluating OLED technology is something that Apple likely does on a regular basis. Manufacturers regularly test new hardware developments as they become available, and with the iPhone 6S / 6S Plus having recently launched, the time is right for Apple to be investigating new technologies it could introduce in the next 12-24 months.