Key display supplier Sharp is reportedly seeking to reduce its reliance on Apple, with sources telling Nikkei the company has offered Apple 30 billion yen ($293 million) to purchase the equipment located in Sharp's Kameyama Plant No. 1 that currently churns out displays for the iPhone. Apple contributed roughly half of the 100 billion yen (~$1 billion) cost to convert the plant from large TV panels to small iPhone displays in 2012, with Apple owning the plant's equipment.
By taking a leadership role in running the plant, Sharp apparently seeks to diversify its customer base. Being able to supply panels to Chinese smartphone manufacturers, for example, would make Sharp less dependent on Apple. The U.S. technology giant is said to be demanding that the Japanese company not supply panels to Samsung, Apple's biggest smartphone rival.
According to the report, the plant is currently running at 90% capacity producing displays for the iPhone 6, giving Sharp some flexibility in the negotiations until demand from Apple starts to slow down with the natural cycle of iPhone production.
Apple typically sources its displays from several suppliers, and Apple's main iOS device assembly partner Foxconn has reportedly been looking to partner with Sharp to begin some of its own production of iPhone and iPad displays. It is unclear how willing Apple will be to give up the display equipment, but if it does provide Sharp with some more flexibility there are still a number of display partners that could help fill any void left by Sharp's diversification.
Reliance on Apple is major issue for many suppliers, both in terms of managing the cyclical nature of the business given Apple's product release patterns and the potential for major disruptions of the companies' revenue streams should Apple suddenly decide to change suppliers. As a result, it's a delicate balancing act for many companies happy to have Apple's business but looking for other opportunities to sustain themselves when Apple's demand wanes.