iPhone 5 manufacturing reportedly underway, includes new, thinner in-cell display technology

Apple has begun the manufacturing process for the next generation iPhone 5, and that process reportedly includes a new, in-cell display technology that will allow for screens that are both thinner and higher quality by integrating the touch sensor into the glass. This according to the Wall Street Journal's Juro Osawa and Lorraine Luk.

[In]-cell touch screens are harder to manufacture than conventional LCD screens. The people familiar with the situation said that LCD makers are finding the manufacturing process challenging and time-consuming as they scramble to achieve high yield rates.

Apple is no stranger to pushing the limits of screen technology in their iOS devices. Both the iPhone when it switched to a high density Retina display, and iPad when it launched, faced supply constraints due in part to the availability of panels.

Removing the 0.5mm thick touch sensor and replacing the screen assembly with an in-cell display could allow Apple to include a bigger battery in the iPhone 5, or make the device slightly thinner. While Apple has traditionally favored thinness almost above all, the new iPad that launched earlier this year was slightly thicker than the iPad 2 that launched in 2011. The increase in iPad thickness was due to the requirements of the Retina display. LTE 4G networking could be what's driving the thinness vs. battery life equation for Apple in this year's iPhone.

In addition to a bigger screen, Apple is reportedly adopting a nano-SIM card and shrinking down the 30-pin Dock connector to a newer, smaller package in order to save room inside the iPhone 5. A much smaller device than an iPad, space will be at an absolute premium for Apple as they strive to include all the latest technology and keep the iPhone as thin and pocketable as possible, especially in the face of competition from the likes of Samsung.

Many of Apple's competitors have switched to 4.5-inch or larger AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays as a way to provide more space for LTE and battery without increasing thickness. Due to the size of these displays, they've also often had to switch to the use of a PenTile matrix -- 5 subpixels of 2 red, 2 green, and 1 blue, rather than the traditional 1 red, 1 green, 1 blue subpixels found LCD displays. While some users aren't bothered by the difference, PenTile doesn't look as good, and isn't as easy to design for, as traditional subpixel displays.

iMore has heard that Apple is not considering a screen size increase beyond 4-inches, so technological improvements like in-cell and smaller component packages are how they'll have to juggle the requirements.

If Apple ultimately has to choose between thinness and battery life, what would you prefer their choice be?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPhone 5 manufacturing reportedly underway, includes new, thinner in-cell display technology


The current thickness of my iphone 4 is just fine. I think a bigger battery would be nice. But just how heavy will the battery be then. I really don't care which way it goes. I'm sure apple will find a happy middle. I'm also thinking a heavier battery will lead to a harder hit on the ground when it drops.

A thinner display probably means a more delicate display. I really hope the new iPhone doesn't look like those renders, because that is just an elongated iPhone 4 with minor changes and a smaller docking port.

Re: ... LCD makers are finding the manufacturing process challenging and time-consuming as they scramble to achieve high yield rates.

Any new process will need to be perfected before production. Over time, quality improves and yields go up.

We've seen (on another site) a flow chart of the old and new front panel production processes. Far fewer steps for the in-cell panel. And the crucial 'bonding' step, where the front optical glass cover is literally glued to the touch panel, happens earlier in the new process. So if there's an unrecoverable problem, at least it costs less because less time has been spent on the component. And in manufacturing, time is money.

Also, the bonding step can be re-done. If there's any visible flaw, the glue can somehow be melted, and the parts re-glued. More efficient than throwing the whole assembly away like they do now.

Battery life. Thin is nice for some folks, but I'm gonna slap the thing into an Otterbox as soon as I get it anyway, so I'd rather have a battery that will get me through the day.

Considering how things have gone in previous years I would not put much stock in rumors. As for thinness vs battery I would rather have a larger battery.

I would think that a better display would require the use of more battery power, i.e the new iPad. So one could deduce that if they make the phone thinner for new(better) display, then they would have to get a bigger battery. All that said, as much as I would enjoy a thinner, enhanced display...more battery life would suit me best.

My 2 year old samsung vibrant has a 4 inch screen. Oh and by the way, I was able to port ios on it just to prove how much better Android is. Can istuff do that. Oh wait, there's an app for that. Wake up people, your paying more for much less!