Why iPhone X OLED won't have Pixel 2 XL's screen problems

Most years most people don't know or care who supplied the panels for iPhone or what display technology they use. Nor should they. It's an implementation detail. All that matters is that the screens look and work great for them.

This year, though, the iPhone X display is going to get a lot of attention. Part of that is because it will be Apple's first OLED iPhone. The other part is because it ships right after Google's Pixel 2 XL OLED has thrown a huge, garish spotlight on the current state of the technology.

The Pixel 2 XL issues — and headlines — have been many. The color calibration looks dull and washed out. At an angle, colors shift and fringe. There's a consistent "dirty" grain to it. And, after only a week of use, review units appear to already be suffering from burn-in.

Since both use OLED, it's led some to wonder if iPhone X will suffer the same problems as Pixel 2 XL.

Every indication is it won't.

What is OLED?

OLED stands for organic light emitting diode. iPhone 8 and previous iPhones all used LCD. Where LCD requires a separate backlight, OLED emits its own light. That means, for starters, OLED allows for thinner panels.

Also, because there's no universal backlight, and OLED only lights up the pixels it needs to light up, blacks can look deep, inky black. For the same reason, if there's a lot of black being displayed, OLED can be more power efficient than LCD well.

OLED also has far higher brightness levels and contrast ratio than LED. That allows for a higher dynamic range (HDR), which means you see more detail in the shadows and highlights. It's terrific for photos and video.

There are some disadvantages to OLED as well. Most importantly, it typically doesn't last as long as LCD: The blue pixels degrade much faster than the red or green. To get around this, instead of using the traditional LCD stripe arrangement of RGB, OLED manufacturers have done things like use diamond arrangements, where large green oval subpixels form a line with smaller red and blue pixels between them. They've also oversaturated colors to compensate.

And, while theoretically cheaper to produce, there still aren't enough OLED suppliers or capacity, resulting in higher prices and significant shortages.

Basically, LCD is a mature, understood, and reliable technology. OLED is not. It has enormous benefits but comes with significant challenges. Anyone shipping OLED has to work really, really hard to mitigate those challenges.

Apple has already used OLED for Apple Watch and TouchBar, but iPhone uses a much larger screen and ships in much, much larger numbers.

Samsung vs. LG panels

There are currently only two companies capable of producing OLED phone panels at scale: Samsung and LG.

It took them several years to get there, but Samsung currently produces the largest volume and most mature OLED solution for phones — by far. There are still compromises, including their use of a diamond subpixel arrangement, but Samsung can ship them with consistency and at scale.

LG makes highly regarded OLED panels for TV sets but those use a very different implementation. When it comes to phones, LG theoretically has a better RGB stripe arrangement but has had a very hard time producing high-quality panels consistently at scale.

Both Apple and Google have, reportedly, poured massive amounts of money into LG to try and accelerate its OLED quality and capacity, because having two (or more) vendors means greater supply and lower prices for purchasers. But making mature OLED solutions is hard and LG just doesn't seem to be there yet.

Apple, ultimately, went with Samsung's OLED panel for iPhone X.

Google, ultimately, went with LG's OLED panel for Pixel 2 XL.

Color calibration

The Pixel 2 XL is capable of displaying the full DCI-P3 color gamut. It's wider than standard sRGB and allows for richer reds and more vibrant greens. While Google claims to have calibrated the screen for "naturalistic" color, people have found it to be dull and washed out, especially compared to the often over-saturated calibration of other Android phones.

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Apple has been shipping DCI-P3 screens for a couple of generations already. Apple has also been color managing them across iOS and macOS devices for just as long. The company individually calibrates its LCD panels at the subpixel level and it's likely doing the same with its OLED panels for iPhone X displays. It also goes for "naturalistic" color, but in a way that retains richness and vibrancy without blowing out the saturation.

In my limited experience with iPhone X, the look was much the same as iPhone 8 or iPhone 7, but with higher dynamic range. In other words, exactly what you'd expect.

Graininess

The Pixel 2 XL has exhibited a graininess, especially on solid colors in lower brightness settings, and most especially while scrolling. This appears to be something particular to the LG panel used in the Pixel 2 XL and LG V30.

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That issue hasn't been reported on devices using similar panels to what Apple is sourcing for iPhone X, and when I scrolled through several apps on iPhone X, albeit briefly, I never saw a hint of noise.

Color shifting

One of the technical issues with the LG OLED panel used by Google on the Pixel 2 XL is color shifting. If you look at the display straight on, it looks fine. If you tilt it and look at it off-angle at all, the colors start to shift towards the blue spectrum. It makes whatever color calibration Google's done meaningless for a wide range of viewing angles and use cases.

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Color shifting like this is also not a known issue with the panels Apple is using for iPhone X. In my time with iPhone X, through a wide range of angles, despite the weird lighting ever-present in demo areas, I didn't notice any shifting like what's been reported on Pixel 2 XL.

Burn-in

Image retention and burn-in are problems faced by several display technologies, including OLED. Over the course of months and years, pixels that don't change start to persist. So, for example, if you go to a solid gray color, you could still see the ghosts of menu icons past.

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Different companies use different methods to mitigate against burn-in, including subtly moving interface elements so they're not as static as they appear.

The problem with Pixel 2 XL is that it's showing signs of burn-in after only one week of normal use. Why Pixel 2 XL is showing these signs so early is unclear but so far it appears to be unique to that device.

My understanding is that, beyond sourcing better panels with high levels of quality control, Apple is doing things to actively reduce the chances of burn-in on iPhone X. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to use iPhone X consistently for a long period of time and see any of that in action just yet.

Apple OLED

If Pixel 2 XL has made you at all concerned about OLED in general, stop and take a breath. Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X display technologies might share the same acronym but they don't share the same sourcing or implementation. Apple is using a much more mature OLED solution and applying its far greater display technology experience to it.

That includes everything from anti-aliasing to burn-in prevention, color calibration to color management, TrueTone ambient temperature matching, and so on.

Of course, while Apple has been developing iPhone X for years and testing it internally at scale for months, nothing can be taken for granted until it ships. Then, when millions of iPhone X are in millions of hands — and under the scrutiny of millions of eyes, we'll see how it holds up.

Right now, all we know is that, for years, Apple has produced industry-leading displays for iPhone. iPhone X should prove no different.

Just like most people have never known or cared who supplied LCD panels for previous generation iPhones, most people won't know or care about who supplies OLED panels for iPhone X. Not if Apple's display team does its job right. All they'll notice is that the screen looks and works great for them.

According to Apple, they've made the first OLED display worthy of iPhone. Come next week, we'll all find out if that's true.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

46 Comments
  • LG panels have always been trash. The smaller pixel (using a samsung panel) actually looks better, with none of these issues. When it comes to OLED panels, Samsung is king.
  • Rene, Jerry said in the most recent AC Podcast that the Pixel 2XL actually used DCI-P3, not sRGB which has commonly been thought. Also, regardless of a Samsung panel, the iPhone X may have better panels than the Pixel 2XL, but Samsung saves its best panels for its own hardware. There is no doubt the Note 8 will come on top at the end of the year as best rated display.
  • With the amount of money Samsung is reportedly making on the panels it is selling to Apple, it will make more money on this contract than it's own handset sales - they can't afford to be "holding back the best" for their own use.
  • They can and they do. They also tune the displays for their devices, they leave the tuning up to the OEM's when they sell them to others, hence why samsung screens often look better and have less issues than the same panel samsung sold to another company.
  • I just came here to see your disgruntled comment. Also "but Samsung saves its best panels for its own hardware." You have no proof for this. Samsung will sell Apple the best displays they can make, they made a lot of money from it. Apple can pay. "There is no doubt the Note 8 will come on top at the end of the year as best rated display." I highly doubt it.
  • "Samsung will sell Apple the best displays they can make" You have no proof of this either.
  • Years of Android phones using Samsung panels says otherwise. Sorry the truth hurts.
  • It’s why I’m holding out on buying the ip8. I wanna check out that screen.
  • I'm waiting as well.
  • Apple won’t disappoint on screen tech. But that notch. Every time I see it makes me just sick. Why Apple did you jank this up?
  • There doesn't seem to be any practical reason, so it's most likely just the sole purpose of differentiation. Apple wanted a unique design that would stand out (for better or worse), and the notch is clearly visible even in outline diagrams (like the ones that were leaked)
  • The "practical" reason would be the technology required to bring FaceID to life...
  • They could've just made the phone taller, or taller and wider. That small change in size would get rid of the notch
  • You saying what they could have done doesn't make their decision "impractical". It's obvious. They wanted to retain the size, minimize the bezels and offer FaceID in a secure and efficient way. This is how they chose to do it. To say the notch serves no practical purpose is wrong. That implies there is nothing but dead space beneath that area and that isn't the case. The notch has a purpose. A very important one as it relates to the phone. I'm not a fan of it myself, but I understand why it's there.
  • I can't see retaining the size being that big of a deal for Apple, given the transition between the iPhone 4, iPhone 5, then onto the 6 and 6 Plus. That's 4 different sizes in a relatively short space of time, would you still tell me Apple cares that much about retaining the size? Apple put the notch there as a "unique design" effect, they could've easily changed the size. Plus iOS devs have the ability to develop their apps for a flexible screen size
  • Every app shot I have seen contains the unibrow. Horribly distracting. You just can't unsee that black blob covering your media.
  • Why didn't you compare to the small Pixel 2? Oh because than there would be nothing to talk down on the Pixel 2 screen about since it made by the same company that makes the iPhone X screen.. (Samsung) Seriously, that's how stupid this article is. Same exact article could be written by switching the iPhone X with the small Pixel 2. Also, Pixel 2 XL has no confirmed burn in. It's only image retention so far.
  • Because the xl is trash andcis the one that makes people worried about oled screens
  • Only the tech heads even know about it. Ask a normal person what an OLED screen is and most would be clueless.
  • Rene. I could finished the article for you in one line: Title: Why iPhone X screen won't suffer Pixel display issues. Full article:
    "Because they use Samsung OLEDs!"
  • Well the idea is that the article expands on the "Why?". If you want "TL;DR news" then use Twitter and follow the right people
  • The "Why" is because Samsung makes the best panels...durrr
  • I'm still perplexed why Rene is unable to use the definite article when referring to the iPhone, and yet manages it with the Pixel and the LG V30. No one can be that pretentious, surely?
  • It’s actually iPhone, not the iPhone. Jobs referred to it that way with the initial introduction. I do recall reading somewhere that there is no definite article used.
  • I've just read through the web page for the iPhone X and it's a confused mess of using articles and omitting them, so it would appear that even Apple's marketeers aren't completely behind abusing the English language in a I'll judged attempt to sound hip.
  • You already know the answer :) But to be fair to Rene it's Apple that drives the pretentiousness. It's good marketing to their core clientele.
  • "Basically, LCD is a mature, understood, and reliable technology. OLED is not. " I think samsung would beg to differ. They have been producing some of the best phone displays available for years. Hence why apple went to them for the iphone X panels.
  • LCD has been around for a long time. OLED has not. It’s still a fairly new technology. Samsung’s OLEDs are the best phone OLEDs right now. I’m happy that LG can’t yet produce enough. Maybe by the time they can, they’ll get it right.
  • Samsung Galaxy's have used OLED panels for 7 years straight now. How long does it take before one can call a technology mature? Answer: Samsung OLEDs ARE a mature technology because of 7+ years of continuous R&D, tweaking of tech, manufacturong, and use in over a billion devices.
  • The iPhone X WILL experience Screen Retention and eventual Screen Burn as it's an OLED display, even the Galaxy S8 has had it this year, even within the first 1-2 weeks on some early units (quick Google and you'll find April posts of it happening), along with the more temporary fixable red-tint issue! Yes, LG have a long way to go, but Samsung ain't there either on those common OLED issues, so to say the iPhone X will be magically null and void on issues prevalent on ALL OLED panels, that's just a delusional thing to say. Will be interesting to see on the constantly there Swipe Up Home button replacement
  • Well, we’ll know more about them very soon. The question is whether Apple is using the same Pentile displays Samsung uses for themselves, or something else. I’m not fond of Pentile, though with higher resolutions they’re sharp enough. That extra green sub-pixel does coarsen text and graphics. Apple has a couple dozen OLED patents, maybe more since I last looked. It’s possible that these are somewhat different than Samsung’s regular parts.
  • OLED burn in is possible but extremely rare in Samsung panels in the real world. Of course, if you search hard you can find examples (usually store display models), just like I can find examples of exploding iPhones, iPhone's with bulging batteries, etc.... But I wouldn't say that all iPhone's explode and get bulging batteries because the reality is that these are relatively rare occurrences.
  • Apple has been trashed for years now over the OLED panel issue (Apple is two years behind Samsung, Apple can’t compete, well, you know the troll drill). It looks like OLED, while looking great, has some serious issues that have not been fixed yet so why is Apple finally going OLED? Is it because they think they have the issues figured out now or is Apple bowing to pressure from the troll army about being behind in screen technology? I hope it’s the former.
  • So did Google know this going into production of the Pixel 2? Did Google know about these issues but decided to release the product anyway? They should have known the geeks would be putting it to the test and would quickly find the problems.
  • Even the Samsung OLED panels used in the latest Samsung devices have more off-axis color shift than LCDs used in recent Apple devices. Hopefully it can be reduced even further.
    The Displaymate tests have a few Color Shift measurements.
  • There is no way to get around off-axis color shift in OLED panels.. It can be greatly minimized by mature OLED manufacturers who have made years of continuous investment, painstaking research, trial and error, and ingenuity -- but it can't be solved 100%.
  • Oled is hard. There will be units that will have issues but I doubt they will be widespread. If there was ever a phone to get applecareplus on then this is the one.
    The screen issues on the pixel 2xl should have no relation to the iPhone. Rather you should be referring to the amazing screen on the note 8 instead
  • Well... what you expect from an advertising company like Google? Their stuff is pure crap! It's only good when it's free, so people don't complain.
  • Great write up and hopefully Apple doesn’t screw up the X with face ID and OLED in question. I’m hopeful with face ID being pretty good and the OLED will likely be Samsung good. LG is quite bad, I’ve used an LG with quantum dot LCD and it’s bad too, despite having higher res than my iPhone 6, it gets temporal image retention and weird colours here and there, the adaptive brightness is also not as gradual as Apple making it jerky sometimes. the Bluetooth implementation is also bad, constant hick ups. Apple may not have the best spec, but it still is way ahead of LG. LG specs are good for marketing, Apple spec is good for Everyday use if you’re not rushing to get the latest tech.
  • let's see what gonna happen.
    I don't belive all iPhone X will skip this awkward situation of the screen .
  • Apple using the Samsung, whic, when calibrated properly, can be very good. The one thing we don’t know yet is whether Apple will be getting the Pentile screen that Samsung now uses. I hope not, but Apple may not have a choice, though Apple has OLED patents itself.
  • René is working very hard to avoid saying that the iPhoneX’s Screen is made by Samsung. I don’t know why, since it’s common knowledge. I have some other criticisms of this article, but I’ll leave it at that.
  • I don’t know how this got posted. Please ignore it.
  • This article should be updated to reflect Apple saying the X screen could suffer burn in.
  • Please update this article to add Apple's statement about screen burn in for iPhone X.
  • And, now we have #GreenGate and Apple saying the X could suffer from burn in. I wonder if Rene regrets writing this ridiculous article yet? This site is just becoming a clickbait #fakenews site.
    https://www.macrumors.com/2017/11/10/iphone-x-green-line-on-display/