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In-cell tech for mobile displays set to boom

The next big thing in mobile screen tech will be in-cell technology - an innovation that Apple has already tackled with the iPhone 5, according to new stats from NPD DisplaySearch.

NPD said that 7.5 per cent of mobile phone makers will be using in-cell tech by the year's end, a number that will jump to 16.7 per cent by 2018. About 12 per cent of tablet makers will be using dual ITO (DITO) film this year, which NPD said is lighter and thinner than DITO glass.

Three months ago, Apple secured a patent for an in-cell panel, which merges the main display and the touch panel into one, allowing for a thinner screen. The iPhone 5 boasts in-cell technology, while the iPad mini includes DITO film, DisplaySearch said.

"These two new projected capacitive touch sensor structures enabled Apple to reduce the thickness and weight of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini," Calvin Hsieh, NPD research director, said in a statement. "These factors contribute to the consumer demand for these products, but manufacturing the new sensors has proven problematic."

Challenges associated with in-cell tech reportedly slowed mass production and shipments of the iPhone 5. This led to higher in-cell touch prices, DisplaySearch said.

Still, Apple's hold on the in-cell touch LCD technology is pretty strong. LG Display, Japan Display Inc., and Sharp make the iPhone 5's 4in, 1,136 x 640 display, but they are not allowed to sell the LCD panels to other companies.

The DITO film touch sensor, meanwhile, is lighter and thinner than its counterpart DITO glass (0.125 mm compared to 0.4mm). The new technology has also resulted in low production yield rates and a higher entry price. Other tablet PCs, NPD said, are less expensive because they use glass sensors or a one-glass solution with optical bonding.

"In-cell touch and DITO film offer some clear advantages, but at the expense of lower yield rates and higher costs - at least in the early stages of production," Hsieh said. "Apple has concluded that the benefits of thinner, lighter devices will be highly valued by consumers."