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Sharp LCD plant revelation casts doubt on Apple's use of IGZO displays

Kameyama plant No. 1 in the foreground with plant No. 2 behind and to the right | Source: Sharp

Despite numerous reports that Apple is employing next-generation IGZO display panels in its iPad lineup, a weekend revelation that the iPhone maker has monopolized the output of a Sharp facility not known to produce IGZO components throws those assertions into question.

Osaka, Japan-based Sharp dedicates the entire production output of its Kameyama No. 1 LCD plant to Apple, Sharp senior executive Norikazu Hoshi told the Nikkei Asian Review last weekend. Initially brought online in 2003 to produce television panels, the facility is not believed to have been retooled for IGZO production.

Instead, IGZO manufacturing responsibilities fall to the Kameyama No. 2 plant. Given the dedication of an entire manufacturing line to Apple in the No. 1 plant — and Hoshi's assurance that increased capacity in the No. 2 plant would atone for the natural volatility that comes with supplying Apple — it is unlikely that the company also draws from the latter facility.

"The No. 1 plant's output goes to just one company (Apple). If you look at just this plant, it certainly presents a high level of volatility risk," Hoshi said. "But if we make LCD panels for smartphones in large quantities at the No. 2 plant, we can absorb the impact even when the No. 1 plant is not doing so well."

Apple has been rumored to be using IGZO technology — which broadly speaking allows LCD displays to let more light pass through, reducing power usage — for years, and was at one point said to have financed Sharp's retooling of Kameyama No. 2 with component prepayments. Instead, it is likely that the money went into retooling the No. 1 facility to produce LTPS panels, which are nearly as efficient as IGZO displays but easier to manufacture.