Seriously, there is an OLED shortage

I’ve mentioned this in passing a couple of times, but there is an OLED shortage. Samsung is taking the lead in addressing the problem, but building a new state-of-the-art factory takes more than a couple of months. In the meantime, there is an OLED shortage.

The reason I bring this up directly is because I’ve read a few blog entries asking why recent smartphones, like the Droid X and HTC EVO, are in such short supply. (Not picking on them, but the most recent I read was from ZDNet’s The Mobile Gadgeteer.) Maybe it’s because, as ZDNet’s The ToyBox put it, “cell phones are being designed with [OLED] screens quicker than the displays can actually be produced.

This, I’m sure, was a primary reason behind Apple’s decision to stick with LCD, one that has paid off since they are able to supply millions of devices while competitors are running out after a few hundred thousand. Apple is backlogged, but they’re still moving units out the door. I don’t think I have to explain why this is a severe problem for iPhone competitors. No matter how much better your product, you simply can’t outsell a competitor if you don’t have product to sell. Motley Fool estimates Samsung’s entire AMOLED output could only supply half of Apple’s display needs. Thus, the industry cannot rely solely on OLED if they intend to sell more than half what Apple does. They can either let the shortages of individual models continue, or switch to LCD for some future models. Expect one or the other for the foreseeable future.

A nightmare scenario for the iPhone competitors would be if Apple decided to utilize OLED in a product line. Much like Apple is gobbling up the world’s supply of flash memory, triggering shortages for everyone (including themselves, which is why flash storage wasn’t doubled for the iPhone 4), if they stepped into the OLED market with cash in hand, the effect would be incredibly disruptive for their competitors.

Update: Sorry, as Charbax points out, I’m a couple devices behind on this. Both the Droid X and HTC EVO sport LCD displays, so the switchover has already happened. The OLED shortage explains why those went with LCD, but doesn’t explain their supply shortages. Could be the flash memory shortage. Could be they just aren’t planning on selling more than a couple hundred thousand at launch.