Among the various display technologies used for smartphones in 2021, AMOLED models are expected to account for a 39% penetration, thanks to smartphone brands’ increasing adoption of this technology, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. In the entry-level and mid-range segments, the smartphone demand for a-Si LCD models remains strong, although this technology’s penetration rate is expected to undergo a slight decrease to 28%. On the other hand, LTPS LCD models are continuing to lose market share to competing technologies, resulting in a 33% penetration rate, while LTPS HD LCD models will occupy a growing share of this segment.
TrendForce indicates that smartphone brands’ procurement activities for components in 2H20 will persist throughout 2021 for two reasons: First, the industry on the whole expects demand for smartphones to ramp up considerably this year. Second, production capacities across the entire semiconductor supply chain have been tight, with some segments even showing severe shortage, thus prompting downstream clients such as smartphone brands to stock up on certain components in order to mitigate the potential risk associated with component shortages.
With regards to the development of smartphone display technologies, panel suppliers have been regaining client orders for rigid AMOLED panels through aggressive pricing since 2H20. Owing to increased adoption by smartphone brands this year, rigid AMOLED models are expected to maintain a strong market presence in the mid-range and premium mid-range segments. Flexible AMOLED models, on the other hand, will likely dominate the high-end and flagship segments. Going forward, AMOLED models will gradually cannibalize the market shares of LTPS LCD models in the mid-range and premium mid-range segments, in turn forcing LTPS LCD models into a lower price segment.
Market demand for entry-level and mid-range smartphones, especially for HD models, has remained strong since 2020, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the supply of key components in these smartphones (including a-Si LCD panels as well as DDI and TDDI ICs) has been in shortage in light of the foundry industry’s tight production capacities. As prices of a-Si LCD panels and ICs spiked, panel suppliers saw this upturn as the perfect opportunity to fulfill the existing demand for a-Si products with LTPS products and in turn expend their production capacity for LTPD LCD panels. Smartphone brands began adopting a-Si HD and LTPS HD LCD panels interchangeably in an increasing number of models, thus giving TDDI ICs flexibility to be used in a greater number of compatible handsets.
At the moment, IC supply remains the greatest bottleneck in the overall smartphone supply chain; case in point, TDDI supply is tight to the point of shortage. TrendForce believes that two key factors will exert significant influence over the smartphone panel industry going forward: First, Chinese IC design companies are likely to obtain wafer input priorities in Chinese foundries thanks to government policies. These IC design companies may potentially experience considerable growth as a result and disrupt the predominant oligopoly of Taiwanese IC design companies in the smartphone panel market. Second, once the ongoing capacity expansion effort of Chinese foundries concludes, their additional production capacities will alleviate the current shortage of IC supplies, with IC prices subsequently entering a downward trajectory. As a result of lowered IC prices, the relationship between LTPS HD panels and a-Si HD panels will likely shift from complementary to competitive, with both product categories struggling for dominance in the HD smartphone model segment.