The market for small liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in South Korea would have been rather dismal, according to a recent study conducted by IHS iSuppli, if it weren't for one particular company ordering a whole bundle of them: Apple. Apple was part of a significant expansion effort that kept the small LCD market from taking a tumble between August and September.
The IHS iSuppli report detailed a small bump in the shipments from South Korean suppliers like Samsung and LG, going from 44 million units total in August to 48 million units in September. Not exactly a massive raise, but certainly head and shoulders above a loss. It's worth noting that, for the same time period, LCD suppliers in Taiwan saw a 3 percent drop, going from 172.3 million units in August to 166.8 million in September. The total figure for both Taiwan and South Korea, therefore, averaged to an extremely slight drop of 0.7 percent.
But the IHS iSuppli report shows the beginning of larger changes through the market, especially as relates to the relationship between Apple and Samsung. The monthly shipment volume to Apple from Samsung actually began to decline in the second half of 2012 as compared to the first half. But since LG was expected to take over the leading role from Samsung (LG is also a South Korean firm) the overall fluctuation likely won't be felt that deeply. Additionally, both Samsung and LG are making inroads with other top device producers -- Samsung itself is seen by many to qualify in that particular field — so that's a significant help to the larger industry.
Meanwhile, the market for tablets and smartphones in general is seen as on the rise; with Apple releasing its new iPad Mini recently, and also bringing in the in-plane switching technology that the full-sized iPad offers, it's likely to bring in a variety of users who weren't interested in buying tablets previously, but can now get access to the "Apple experience" for a lower price than is commonly offered. However, as Apple ramps up production, and drop orders to Samsung, it could pose an opportunity for other display makers like Japan's Sharp and Taiwan's AU Optronics. Though it's worth noting that many of these are somewhat smaller suppliers, and issues of volume and production quality may come into play, making them somewhat less than effective overall.
There are certainly plenty of possibilities afoot when it comes to the larger LCD market. With competition heavy between the various providers, anyone who can ramp their production and quality up sufficiently to be a viable supplier for Apple is likely to land a lot of business in the short term. Though with some expressing concerns about Apple's long-term viability, it may well not be worth the expense required to boost production to that level. But then, the concerns about Apple's long-term picture may prove unfounded. There's a lot of uncertainty in the small LCD market space, and that particular fog of war is likely to cause significant problems for LCD makers for some time to come.
Edited by Rich Steeves