Apple likely to Adopt Game Changing Silver Nanowire-Based Flexible Touch Displays for Future iOS Devices
Taiwan's TPK is a known Apple supplier (PDF) and the company behind Apple's 3D Touch display technology specifically. Last September the Wall Street Journal noted that "Apple's 3-D Touch requires a special process combining layers of components by using heat and pressure. This has put Chinese touch-screen makers TPK and General Interface Solution Ltd., a Foxconn unit, in the spotlight." Today we're learning that TPK will be introducing a new technology that is likely to be used in future iOS devices – and it could be a game changer for many reasons.
According to a new supply chain report today, "Touch panels used in hand-held devices are transitioning from rigid to flexible models based on metal thin film or nano silver technology. Touch panel maker TPK Holding has prepared to adopt nano silver technology," according to company president and CEO Michael Chung.
TPK has obtained about 200 patents concerning nano silver technology and has found new materials to replace ITO (indium tin oxide) used in rigid touch panels, Chung indicated.
Nano silver-based flexible touch panels may become a mainstream touch solution in as soon as two years or as late as 3-5 years, Chung noted. However, "TPK expects its clients to launch high-end devices equipped with TPK-developed nano silver-based flexible touch panels in the second half of 2016," Chung indicated.
So what will this new technology bring to the table for Apple? The EETimes wrote last year that "Brittle glass is out. Flexible electronics and interfaces are in. They provide enhanced portability and durability, and also provide virtually unlimited design flexibility. Flexible touch displays essentially equate to flexible ergonomics. Imagine unbreakable phone screens that flex instead of shattering when dropped. Consider folding a seven-inch tablet so it slips into your pocket. How about a display that wraps around your arm?" Yes, Apple has already thought of such future flexible devices.
The EETimes report further noted that "As more product designers become aware of silver nanowire touch displays, we'll be seeing more insanely great new products. Consumer electronic devices that are coming won't look like yesterday's clunky boxes. Tablets and laptops are increasingly thinner, and even monitors and kiosks are becoming sleek and aesthetically pleasing. In turn, this is driving the demand for thinner, lighter components. Apart from anything else, electronic components with reduced mass tend to be more rugged and durable.
The flexibility of silver nanowires -- along with their transmission and conductive properties -- are enablers for an array of existing and forthcoming electronic displays and consumer wearables, as well as IoT inventions for as-yet unimagined applications.
There are several factors that make silver nanowires a material ideally suited to new products for the 'touch age.' Let's start by noting that touchscreens should be thin, light, visible in various ambient light conditions, highly responsive, and -- perhaps most importantly -- lower-cost.
Forthcoming generations of both smaller and larger touch interfaces need to be very responsive; also, the display needs to be bright and visible in all types of ambient lighting. This requires notably more highly conductive transparent conductors with high transmission ability. Silver nanowire delivers on all counts."
Considering that Apple is rumored to be working on a 2017 all glass anniversary iPhone, using silver nanowire technology seems like it could be a perfect fit – especially because the Apple community has been concerned that an all-glass iPhone would be prone to major problems when dropped.
With TPK being one of the suppliers behind Apple's latest cutting edge 3D Touch displays and one of TPK's top customers for 'high-end' products, we're likely to see Apple adopt this next-gen display technology.
The good news is that Apple could also have a second supplier. We reported on this technology a year ago in a report titled "Apple's 2016 iPad Display may use Next-Gen Touch Panel Technology using Nano Silver Wire Materials." In that report we noted that an Asian report had noted that "Apple is planning to apply a new nano material on a touch panel. By changing ITO-based clear film with silver nano wire material, it plans to raise sense of touch and decrease cost." Domestic AgNW based touch-screen panel (TSP) industries was one of the companies getting ready to commercialize this product. The Asian report hinted the technology could be introduced in the next-gen 2016 iPad.
While Apple's timetable for adopting this technology isn't known, it's possible it may make its way to this year's iPad and next year's iPhone. Whenever it arrives, it appears that it will provide consumers with many advantages and Jony Ive and team with more form factor design flexibility. I can't wait to see what Apple has in store for us.
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Additional Reading: Best-in-Class Touchscreens with Silver Nanowires