The shipments of IGZO panels worldwide totaled 5.05 million units in 2015 and are forecast to skyrocket by 296% year on year to 20 million units in 2016 owing to the demand generated by Apple’s latest tablet, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, according to WitsView, a division of TrendForce.
The rapid expansion of IGZO panels in the tablet display application is positively driven by the iPad series. Demand for IGZO panels began to pick up last year with the release of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which was the first tablet to use this technology.
Similar to its larger sibling, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro that was launched earlier this year also comes with an IGZO-based display. Both iPad models have brought about a surge of demand to the IGZO market and helped push down the overall cost of the technology. As IGZO panels become more economical, their potential in the tablet market would also grow.
WitsView estimates the demand for IGZO panels from iPad series will shoot up from 3.3 million units in 2015 to 18 million units in 2016. Apple has become the sole major source of demand for IGZO panels and is expected to account for almost 90% of the global demand this year, up from 66% last year.
WitsView finds that Apple’s use of IGZO panels for iPads is based on the company’s deep commitment and high expectation of this display technology, in addition to the power-saving advantage that it can offer. With iPad driving the demand, Apple hopes IGZO panel makers will soon achieve stability in manufacturing. Eventually, the brand’s other major product line, the MacBook, will be adopting the technology as well. Apple plans to introduce MacBooks carrying IGZO panels in the second half of this year.
Microsoft is one of the few other branded device vendors that are interested in using IGZO panels, even though its demand has been much lower than Apple’s. Microsoft began to apply this technology to its products last year, specifically for its 12.3-inch Surface Pro 4. Microsoft’s demand made up 34% of the total shipments of IGZO tablet panels in 2015 at 1.7 million units. The general outlook for Surface sales this year is neutral, so Microsoft’s IGZO panel demand is going to increase just slightly to 2 million units. Compared with Apple, Microsoft’s influence over the IGZO panel market will be quite insignificant.
Whether other branded and white-box tablet vendors will adopt IGZO panels remains uncertain. Due to declining tablet sales, vendors are more concerned about product costs and more hesitant when it comes to upgrading their devices with new technologies. Therefore, IGZO panels have less appeal to smaller tablet vendors in the current market environment. Another issue is that the technologically mature IGZO panel suppliers – Sharp, LG Display and Samsung Display – are almost fully occupied with Apple’s demand. Their capacities for IGZO panel orders from competing vendors are very limited. As a result of constrained demand and supply, WitsView expects other vendors, excluding Apple and Microsoft, will account for a very small percentage of this year’s IGZO panel shipments.