China-based BOE Technology Group is stepping up its bid to become an OLED panel supplier for Apple's future smartphones, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.
BOE is the world's top producer of large liquid crystal screens and already makes displays for Apple's iPads and MacBooks, but the firm now has its sights set on the lucrative OLED panel market.
The earliest BOE could supply the OLED screens would be from 2020, one person familiar with the matter said. For iPhones intended for release later this year, Apple is set to procure screens mainly from Samsung, with a small portion coming from LG Display Co. , people have said.
If Apple and BOE were to agree to a deal, the Chinese manufacturer would become Apple's first OLED supplier outside of South Korea and Japan. Samsung exclusively produces OLED displays for the current iPhone X, but Apple is in the process of opening up to LG, Sharp and Japan Display.
Apple has considered using BOE as an OLED supplier before. In February 2017, Bloomberg reported that Apple had been testing BOE's OLED displays for months, but that it hadn't decided whether to add the company as a supplier.
One of the reasons for the delay may have been down to the OLED panel manufacturing process, which is much more difficult than making liquid crystal displays. If so, BOE will need to do more to convince Apple that it can produce large numbers of OLED panels while maintaining the highest quality controls.
If it succeeds, BOE will not only prove its manufacturing prowess with a technically challenging product, but also will score a big win for China in its race to catch up to South Korea and Japan in advanced display-screen manufacturing.
Buying display screens from BOE, which is controlled by the Beijing city government and whose biggest shareholders are state-linked companies, could help Apple stay in China’s good graces—as long as BOE can meet Apple’s high bar for quality.
BOE is one of China's largest display makers, recently spending about $14.5 billion on two AMOLED factories. One of the new factories opened last summer, while another will open a couple years later. When they're up to full capacity, BOE says they'll be able to produce 1.6 million square-meters of flexible glass substrates (surfaces that displays are carved out of) a month.