For displays with a touch panel, there is a cover glass, or cover lens, that protects the display and touch system. The cover glass comes in different form factors to accommodate the design of the device, especially in the case of mobile phones. The form factors are called 2D, 2.5D and 3D according the shape of the cover glass and how the cover glass is laminated over the display and touch system. As mobile phone makers are competing on form factor, fashionable design, palm friendliness and touch sensitivity are increasingly attractive—and phone makers are encouraging touch panel suppliers to develop improved cover glass shapes.
3D cover glass shipments for mobile phones are forecast to increase to 47 million units in 2016, making up 3% of the market. The shipments will soar 112.8% to 100 million units in 2017, comprising 5.7% of the market, and grow 63% to 163 million units in 2018, encompassing 7.9% of the market.
The explosive growth in the demand for 3D cover glass is attributable to the following factors:
- Samsung Electronics has applied flexible on-cell touch active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) panels to its flagship smartphone models such as the Samsung Galaxy S series and Galaxy Note series.
- In 2016, Samsung Display began to supply flexible on-cell AMOLED panels to vivo Communication Technology, Huawei Technologies, Oppo Mobile Telecommunications, Xiaomi and Samsung Electronics in an effort to expand the on-cell AMOLED display market.
- Mobile phone makers are differentiating their products by using 3D cover glass instead of metal or plastic for the back cover.
- Various wireless technologies, such as wireless charging, near field communication (NFC) and multi-band support, have been adopted in mobile phones. Because radio waves can pass through glass more easily than metal, glass has been preferred for the back cover.
- Apple is highly likely to use flexible on-cell AMOLED displays in its new iPhone models in 2017.
In terms of revenue, the 3D cover glass market for mobile phones is expected to reach $456 million in 2016, with a 12.8% share of the market. The share will likely expand to 22.6% in 2017, and then 29.4% in 2018, surpassing 2D cover glass.
Interestingly, while the touch panel market is stagnant or declining year-over-year on a revenue basis due to market saturation and intense competition, the cover glass industry is expected to grow 0.1%, 6% and 11% in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively. The growth may be driven by increased adoption of 2.5D and 3D cover glass. In the meantime, profits from 2D cover glass will drop, although shipments will remain high.
Unlike 3D front cover glass, 3D back cover glass can be applied to non-flexible displays, so it is likely to expand more significantly. Most mobile phone makers that are adopting 3D cover glass are expected to have a combination of 2.5D front cover glass and 3D back cover glass.
Furthermore, if Apple adopts flexible on-cell AMOLED displays in 2017, the 3D front cover glass market will expand substantially. By then, cover glass makers who are not capable of producing 3D cover glass will have profitability issues, as price competition will be fiercer in the 2D and 2.5D markets.
David Hsieh is Director of Analysis & Research within the IHS Technology group
Posted on 10 June 2016