September 17, 2012 - Shipments of tablets are booming, and that means demand for tablet displays is set to spike as well -- and some new panel makers are getting in on the action, according to IHS iSuppli.
Shipments of tablet displays, including iPad's 9-in. model and smaller 7.x-in. models from various brands, will soar 56% to 126.6 million units in 2012, according to the analysis firm. Of those, more than half (74.3, 35% Y/Y growth) will be for the 9.x-in. segment where the iPad rules supreme.
The second-largest tablet display segment, the 7.x-in. category, is taking up some share now (41.1M units, 98% Y/Y), accounting for nearly a third of total shipments vs. 26% a year ago, notes iSuppli. That's because these smaller tablets will be launching with lower prices than the bigger ones: Samsung's Galaxy Tab, Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook tablet, and others that use the Google Android operating system, explains Vinita Jakhanwal, director for small & medium displays at IHS. (And Apple is expected to come out with its own smaller display later this year.)
Tablet demand strongly follows seasonal trends, and thus shipments of tablet displays fell off in 1Q12 (-20% vs. 1Q12) as suppliers cleared out inventory. Shipments ramped back up in 2Q12 (27M units, 29% Q/Q) once those inventories cleared out, though, and panel orders started coming in for new launches planned in 2H12, iSuppli explains.
LG Display and Samsung Display were by far the top two suppliers of tablet displays in 1Q12 (42% and 38% marketshare, respectively). Both are top iPad suppliers; LG also makes displays for Amazon and B&N, while Samsung sources displays for its own internal tablet business. Both companies are making major investments to upgrade both technology and capacity for high-performance tablet panels, e.g. wide-viewing-angle capabilities such as in-plane switching and fringe-field switching -- and both are looking to convert amorphous-silicon (a-Si) fabs to oxide silicon panels to help improve the technology's resolution, power consumption, and performance.
Another angle in the surge of tablet displays is the arrival of other major LCD panel suppliers, particularly Japanese ones (Sharp, Japan Display, Panasonic) who are dedicating capacity at their Gen-6 and Gen-8 fabs to make room, iSuppli notes. Together they'll be increasing capacity allocation for small/medium displays by 164% this year to 5.5 mw. Sharp in particular has its eye on oxide silicon capacity, as it's been supplying panels for the new iPad from its G8 fab. Panasonic is likely to produce 7.x-in. and 8.x-in. tablet panels during 2H12, the firm adds.
Meanwhile, major Taiwanese display suppliers also are adjusting their business models, to go after business in the education sector and China's white-box market, iSuppli notes. While AU Optronics is believed to be qualified as a supplier for the smaller (7.85-in) iPad, generally speaking Taiwanese panel suppliers primarily target the Chinese market that emphasizes lower-priced tablets -- which means they must dial back the display specs, e.g. with more basic twisted nematic (LCD) and not the wide-viewing capabilities.
Forecasted shipments of worldwide tablet panel displays
by size, in millions of units. (Source: IHS iSuppli)