The next-generation iPhone which Apple will be releasing sometime later this year might just be implementing in-cell touch panels produced by Sharp and Toshiba, according to a report from DigiTimes.
Their sources are claiming that Sharp will be using their 5.5G production lines to manufacture the panels while Toshiba Mobile Display (TMD) will be using their 6G lines, and that the two companies will heavily be ramping up production come Q2 of this year in preparation of the next iPhone. An improvement in yield rates of the in-cell touch panels at Sharp and TMD has persuaded Apple to choose to cooperate with Japan-based panel makers, the sources noted.
So, what exactly is in-cell touch panel technology, and what are the benefits to using it? Basically, in-cell touch panels integrate touch functionality into the TFT (thin-film transistor) manufacturing process, which eliminates the need for additional glass. Not only does this help bring down manufacturing costs of the device, but it also can help the company develop a thinner and lighter device altogether. This technology has been in the works for some time now – take a look at this press release from AUO, for example – but it will certainly become big and "mainstream" if it is used within the iPhone and possibly other smartphones down the road.
DigiTimes noted that, should Apple go the route of in-cell touch panels, the current companies that supply them with touch panels – TPK Holdings and Wintek – will be significantly impacted. The two companies are currently specialized in production of glass on glass touch solutions. In response to this, TPK claims that it is developing touch on lens (TOL) single-glass touch solutions.
DisplaySearch analyst Davis Hsieh agrees that Apple will be utilizing the technology, telling the following to reporters at the DisplaySearch Taiwan Flat Panel Display Conference:
"Of course, Taiwanese panel makers are also developing this technology, but Japanese suppliers still run faster [..] compared with on-cell technology, touch panels that use in-cell technology can be made thinner because the touch sensors are actually placed inside the color filters rather than on top of them", he explained."
It’s worth noting that the origin of this rumor, DigiTimes, isn’t exactly notorious for their credible reporting. However, this has to be one of the few speculations to emerge from that site which actually makes sense and is plausible. But, as with anything – especially in the world of Apple rumors – it should be taken with a grain of salt.