Most high-end smartphones switched over to OLED panels years ago, but Apple stubbornly kept using LCDs. Granted, they were top-quality LCDs, but OLED has become the industry standard. Apple finally started using OLED with the iPhone X, but the iPhone XR still has an LCD. This might be the last year Apple uses LCD panels, though. A report from the Wall Street Journal says Apple will be all OLED from 2020 onward.
OLED initially gained steam because it doesn’t need a dedicated backlight. With OLED, the pixels themselves provide all the light you need. That makes the panels very thin and flexible, and the black levels are inherently perfect. However, it took time for OLEDs to match LCD in overall brightness and color accuracy — early OLED panels skewed heavily toward warm colors, and they were tough to see outdoors.
All the issues have long since been worked out, and Samsung’s OLED panels (which it brands as Super AMOLED) have been regarded as the best available for years. Apple took the plunge with the 2017 iPhone X and kept the OLED party going with the XS and XS Max in 2018. The panel change allowed Apple to slim down its iPhone bezels to almost nothing. The OLED curves backward at the bottom so the display drivers can connect behind the screen. That’s expensive, so most other phones don’t bother, and that’s why they have larger “chins” at the bottom.
That brings us to the iPhone XR, which has larger bezels all the way around to accommodate the necessary LCD components inside. This phone is naturally cheaper, and it doesn’t look as nice as the iPhone XS. There will probably be an LCD-equipped iPhone in late 2019, but the WSJ suggests that will be the last one. Apple’s 2020 lineup will be all OLED, and that will probably signal another substantial design change.
Reports have suggested that the iPhone XR hasn’t sold as well as Apple had hoped, with most buyers going for the sleeker (and more expensive) iPhone XS models. Although, iPhone sales, in general, are leveling off. The move to all OLED panels could mean higher prices, but any future “budget” iPhones could look nicer. Apple has also been investigating microLED panels as a future replacement for OLED, but we’re probably years from that technology making it into phones.
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