Meet IGZO: The bleeding-edge LCD tech for the next iPhone

Brighter, smoother, power-efficient, and bendable -- this may be Apple's latest Retina-style leap forward

It has an ugly name, but delivers a pretty screen. IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) is the latest LCD screen technology, and it appears that Apple will be its first big adopter for mobile devices.

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry says Apple is shifting to IGZO for the iPhone and perhaps the iPad and some MacBooks, which explains why Apple's orders for LCD screens dropped recently. Most reports speculated the drop in LCD orders meant a drop in iPhone demand, but Chowdhry -- one of the few financial analysts who's usually right about technology -- says it's because Apple is shifting to IGZO.

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What is it about IGZO that would cause Apple to adopt it for its flagship iPhone 5's and other devices' screens?

One reason is that IGZO screens are both brighter and use much less power, which could extend a smartphone's or tablet's operational time on a charge significantly. Consider: After its radios, a mobile device's LCD is the biggest battery-drainer.

Another reason is that IGZO technology has a much higher response time -- 40 times that of standard LCDs -- which means that moving images display almost no lag or stutter. Sharp Electronics is the main company behind IGZO, and the screens it has exhibited at various trade shows are in fact stunning and even more realistic than what we have today. IGZO could provide Apple the equivalent of Retina's sharpness for motion smoothness.

The third reason is cost. Apple currently uses an LCD technology called low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS), which provides sharper images and better motion smoothness than the standard LED- and OLED-lit LCDs used in most other mobile devices. If you ever wondered why Apple's LCD screens are so much nicer and more natural than the competition's, LTPS is the reason. But LTPS is very expensive, where as IGZO -- with even better display -- is not. Using IGZO could boost Apple's profits and perhaps ease the path to a lower-cost iPhone for developing countries, a rumor perpetually surrounding Apple.

There's one more reason: IGZO LCDs can be manipulated into curved shapes, not just flat surfaces. Samsung made a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show this month with its flexible Youm prototype LCD technology, but IGZO offers similar pliability. Because IGZO comes from Sharp, Apple could also develop nonflat screens without needing to rely on its Samsung, a major provider of parts for Apple, as well as its heated rival in the war over mobile patents.

I discount the majority of Apple rumors I see in the blogosphere -- most are clearly made up and just circulated for the thrill of rumormongering. But Chowdhry is no rumormonger, and the IGZO technology is real and already being used in Japan. It would be very much like Apple to push the envelope on LCD technology yet again.

This article, "Meet IGZO: The bleeding-edge LCD tech for the next iPhone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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