An OLED display uses a new technology called OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes). OLED screens are brighter, more efficient, thinner and feature better refresh rates and contrast than LCD or Plasma.
OLEDs are made by placing thin films of organic (carbon based) materials between two conductors. When an electrical current is applied, a bright light is emitted. Since the OLED materials emit light, a backlight is not required (unlike LCDs).
OLEDs in mobile phones
Mobile phones that boast OLED screens are rapidly becoming more prevalent, with over 500 million AMOLED screens produced in 2018 - mostly to satisfy demand from mobile phones. Samsung has been using AMOLEDs in its high-end phones for many years, and most phone makers are also starting to adopt OLED displays (including Apple, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, Lenovo, Motorola, and others.
Samsung announced a handful of new devices, all with OLED displays. We'll start with the company's 2019 flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S10. It includes four different variants -
Galaxy S10 5G: 6.7" 3040x1440 flexible AMOLED
Galaxy S10+: 6.4" 3040x1440 flexible AMOLED
Galaxy S10: 6.1" 3040x1440 flexible AMOLED
Galaxy S10e: 5.8" 2280x1080 AMOLED (rigid?)
The S10 phones use Samsung's latest AMOLEDs, that are now HDR10+ certified, include an under-the-OLED fingerprint sensor (Qualcomm ultra-sonic) and cut-outs for the selfie cameras. Samsung calls these displays "Dynamic AMOLED" (due to the HDR support, probably) and "Infinity-O Display" due to the camera cut-outs.
Samsung finally officially launched its Galaxy Fold foldable smartphone device. The Galaxy Fold features a 7.3" 1536 x 2152 foldable Infinity Flex AMOLED display that folds inside, in addition to a secondary cover display - a 4.6" 840×1960 Super AMOLED.
Besides the exciting foldable display, the phone/tablet device features an octa-core chipset, 12 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a large battery, triple camera setup on the back and dual front cameras.
LG Electronics says that it will introduce its first 5G smartphone (the V50 ThinQ 5G, which will probably use a pOLED display) in MWC 2019 next week - as it hopes this will help it rebound its smartphone business. At MWC it will also launch its G8 ThinQ with its Crystal Sound OLED.
Regarding foldable OLED technology, the LG's president says that it is still premature to release a foldable phone. The company says that its technology is ready - and in fact LG already introduced its rollable OLED TV which is even one step ahead of foldable technology. If consumer reaction to foldable smartphones is positive the company is "fully ready to respond".
LG Electronics announced that its upcoming LG G8 ThinQ smartphone will feature the company's Crystal Sound OLED (CSO) technology - which turns the OLED display into an audio speaker.
The idea is that a CSO display vibrates and turns into a diaphragm - to produce high quality sound. LG says that such a speaker improves the clarity compared to regular smartphone speakers. The G8 ThinQ will also use other audio technology, including DST-X 3D Surround Sound emulation, Hi-Fi Quad DAC, Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) and more.
Samsung Electronics reported its financial results for Q4 2018, with revenues of KRW 59.27 trillion ($53 billion USD), down 10% from Q4 2017. Samsung's operating profit of KRW 10.8 trillion ($9.6 billion) was down 29% from 2017.
Samsung Display reported a decline in rigid smartphone OLED display sales - due to rising competition from LCD panels. Demand for flexible OLEDs was strong. In Q1 2019, OLED display sales will remain weak - but Samsung says that flexible OLED demand will pickup in the second half of 2019.
DSCC released its cost and prices estimates for Samsung's smartphone OLEDs. For rigid OLEDs production costs range from $23 for a 5.5" FHD AMOLED to $32 for a 7.21" 2244x1080 one (see chart below). For some of its rigid OLEDs, SDC enjoys a high operating margin of 30%.
Flexible OLEDs are of course much more expensive - a 5.5" 2560x1440 panel costs almost $70, while a 6.46" 2688x1242 panel costs around $90 (as can be seen in the chart below). As in rigid OLEDs, the larger displays have a higher operating margin (up to 26% for the 6.46" panel).
You can compare DSCC's production costs estimates with the recently released IHS production costs here. IHS estimates a 5.7" rigid OLED at $18.62 (DSCC: 5.8" at $23) and a 5.8" flexible OLED at $22.61 (DSCC: 5.5" costs $70 - that's quite a difference!).
Market research firm DSCC says that BOE managed to dramatically increase its yields - which have tripled to over 30% by the end of 2018. The company is expected to continue and improve its yields which will reach, according to DSCC, to almost 60% by the end of 2019.
The increased yields enabled BOE to increase its flexible OLED production at its first B7 line from 125,000 units per month in Q3 2018 to almost 1 million panels per month in Q4 2018. BOE's main customer is Huawei - with its Mate 20 Pro. The increased yields means that panel production costs are falling - and DSCC actually expects BOE's production costs to fall below SDC's by the end of 2019 as BOE's fab costs are subsidized - as can be seen in the image below.