All of the new iPhone models recently launched by Apple feature the GF2 touch sensor structure already in use in Apple’s iPad series. GF2 touch, also as known as double-sided indium tin oxide (DITO) film, relies on touch sensor patterning on the top and bottom sides of the film substrate.
Apple relied on in-cell touch LCD displays for five years until 2017. However, while the new iPhone XR still has an LCD display, it instead uses GF2, which is not in-cell touch. Apple’s reliance on GF2 in new iPhone models will halt the decline in projected capacitive touch display shipments. Capacitive touch displays, which made up 43 percent of the market in 2017, are expected to increase slightly to 43.3 percent in 2018, according to the latest IHS Markit “Touch Panel Market Tracker Report.”
Previously, the iPhone’s touch sensor structure relied on a glass-glass (GG) structure, which has an additional glass substrate patterned with touch sensors on the top and bottom sides. Apple next developed an in-cell touch sensor structure and applied it to the iPhone 5 in 2012, because in-cell touch offers better display transmittance and thickness than a GG structure. Before iPhone X, all iPhone models adopted the proprietary in-cell touch thin-film transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT LCD), which accounted for 13.3 percent of all touch-display shipment share in 2017. The iPhone X was the first smartphone to adopt the GF2 touch sensor structure. New 2018 iPhone models (XS, XS Max and XR) now follow suit, leading GF2 shipment share to rise from 3.6 percent in 2017 to 8.6 percent in 2018.
However, Apple’s GF2 transition will be likely temporary. Although GF2 has a mature supply chain – including film substrate, sensor patterning and touch module bonding – its thickness and display transmittance means Apple will not adopt it for the long term. While Apple is establishing its own active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) display supply chain for iPhones, selecting GF2 could make panel makers, aside from Samsung Display, quickly raise their yield rates. Once Apple has more AMOLED display sources, the customization of Apple’s proprietary touch sensor structure will be almost inevitable. Apple did it in 2012 with customized in-cell TFT LCD displays, and IHS Markit expects the company will do the same thing with AMOLED.