Why LG Switched from LCDs to OLEDs
September 04, 2017
In 2012, I visited LG and met with the display group and the marketing manager for displays (both OLEDs and LCDs) and asked why they weren’t using OLEDs in their smartphones. The answer I got from the marketing manager was that LCDs were better. We had a rancorous discussion and agreed to disagree. Now, 5-years later OLEDs are the display of choice and LG’s latest flagship phone, the V30 comes with a flexible OLED. There are several reasons why LG might have decided to make the switch to an OLED display on their latest flagship. One obvious reason is that while worldwide smartphones grew at a CAGR of 14% during the period, LG grew by only 2% per annum. Moreover it local competitor Samsung sells over 300m/year and LGE sells ~50m/year.
Other reasons include Daydream support; with Google’s Daydream VR spec requiring an OLED display, among other hardware components, in order to be supported. But that’s not it, even if the V30 is LG’s first Daydream Ready phone. Customer preference could also be the cause, with Samsung’s AMOLED screens largely setting the standard for what is considered a “good” screen on Android phones. But LG didn’t show any internal research or numbers to share with media, as most OEMs typically have when they introduce (or backtrack on) something new. LG Display’s increased P-OLED production capacity and recent reductions in the manufacturing cost of OLED displays could also be behind the switch. But the cost reductions apply to Samsung, which has a history of production of flexible displays, whereas LG is just getting started. But again, LG didn’t admit to anything along those lines. The (official) reason LG decided to put an OLED display on its flagship – the V30, boils down to fashion. Not fashion as a goal in itself, even if LCD displays are becoming increasingly unfashionable these days, using flexible OLED means a fashionable product. The current “megatrend” (as LG calls it) in the mobile industry for full-screen bezelless designs was the primary factor behind the introduction of P-OLED for the V30. Hinting at the difficulties involved in producing the LG G6 with its near bezelless LCD screen, LG’s Lydia Lee told Android Authority that “with P-OLED we can easily make the shape of the design, and we can make the bezel about 3-4mm smaller than before. Plus we can make it lighter and slimmer. That is why we are choosing OLED.” While this justification is correct, I believe the other reasons mentioned above along with LG’s new capacity to produce P-OLED’s flexible and impact absorbing properties factored into the decision to switch to an OLED display. Furthermore, the market preference for bezelless designs also brought about the demise of the V series’ signature secondary screen. “If we kept the second screen we could not make a competitive design,” Lee told me at a briefing in Berlin. LG sees the V30’s floating bar as the second evolution of the second screen, which in many ways is true – what need do we have for an always on second screen when we can achieve much the same functionality through a floating bar on an always on display? If removing the second screen paved the way for a full-screen, bezelless display, then no one is likely to complain about its absence. Given the switch to full screen (infinity) and 18:9 form factors, buyers may soon be disappointed with the lack of differentiation, so we must all wait for the foldables!
Note: While what Lee says is true, it must be pointed out that the LG G6’s LCD screen had a top bezel just as small as those found on the V30. And the V30’s side bezels are actually larger than those found on the G6. To that point, LG says it wanted to avoid the light refraction issues found on other devices with curved OLED displays, which is the case, even if the V30’s thicker side bezels are a natural target for criticism.