Japan Display to produce OLED smartphone panels from 2018

Japan Display Inc Chief Executive Mitsuru Homma poses in front of the company's logo at its headquarters in Tokyo September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan Display Inc said it will begin mass production of organic light emitting diode (OLED) panels in 2018, aiming to catch up with Korean rivals amid speculation Apple Inc may adopt such screens for its iPhones soon.

Japan Display already supplies smartphone screens to Apple, but faces stiff competition from Asian rivals such as South Korea’s LG Display Co Ltd.

“We will take advantage of our advanced thin-film transistor technology in developing OLED screens,” Akio Takimoto, chief of Japan Display’s research center, told reporters on Friday.

The announcements also comes as Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ), Japan Display’s biggest shareholder and state-backed fund, is in talks to invest in Sharp Corp and merge its display unit with Japan Display, according to sources.

Media reports say Apple may adopt OLED technology for its iPhone as early as in 2018, with LG Display and the panel-making unit of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd likely to be considered as supplier candidates.

OLED screens do not require backlights and can therefore be thinner or curved, but their manufacturing costs are for now higher than conventional liquid crystal display panels.

Japan Display was formed in a government-backed deal in 2012 from the ailing display units of Sony Corp, Toshiba Corp and Hitachi Ltd.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Miral Fahmy