Sharp says to make smartphone panels at TV panel plant

TOKYO Thu Apr 21, 2011 5:50am EDT

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Sharp Corp said on Thursday it would start production of small display panels for use in smartphones at an existing TV panel plant this year and a source said plans to build a further production line remained on track.

The previous day, the company denied a report in an industry newspaper that Toshiba Corp had been chosen to produce small liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels for Apple Inc, and that Sharp had been dropped as a supplier.

Sharp said in a statement it would start production of smartphone panels alongside TV panels at the Kameyama No.2 factory in Mie Prefecture this year, but executives at a news conference declined to comment on the fate of the company's Kameyama No.1 factory.

A source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Sharp's plan to build a new production line for smartphone panels at the Kameyama No.1 factory remained unchanged.

The building has been empty since Sharp sold the TV panel-making equipment to a Chinese rival.

Demand for small panels continues to grow, with Apple announcing on Wednesday it had sold 18.65 million iPhones in the March quarter, well ahead of the 16 million expected.

Sharp already produces small panels at two other factories in Japan, but it has been forced to suspend production at two large-panel factories amid plunging domestic demand and a shortage of a gas needed in the production process.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Joseph Radford)

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