Chinese third party device manufacturer, Foxconn, recently bought Japanese electronics business, Sharp, and are set to increase their investment into the business. Currently, Sharp produce a relatively limited number of IGZO (or indium gallium zinc oxide) TFT back panels, which offer reduced power consumption and potentially much higher resolutions compared with traditional or conventional TFT back panels. In addition to their resolution and power consumption advantages, which are very beneficial to the mobile device industries, IGZO panels are also cheaper to manufacture compared with conventional back panels because there are fewer stages during the production process. IGZO back panels can also be larger: traditional back panels can be built at 6G or below fabs whereas IGZO panels may be constructed at up to 8G size. To date, Sharp has manufactured IGZO LCD panels or up to 85-inches in size.
With additional investment from Foxconn, Sharp is set to be able to increase their manufacturing capacity and sell more of their IGZO panels into the market. Sharp are the market leader in building this technology and their TFT back panels are not restricted to LCD panels: their IGZO technology can be applied to curved, flexible and OLED screens. Sharp has already demonstrated a trial production run of 3.4-inch flexible OLED panels built upon their IGZO back panels. Another trial production run saw Sharp producing OLED panels with a resolution of 664ppi. For LCD panels and to meet the demand for higher resolution, sharper displays, Sharp have demonstrated a smartphone-sized panel with an 806ppi resolution display and could theoretically increase this to 1,200ppi. To put these numbers into perspective, the Nexus 5X's 5.2-inch, 1080p IPS LCD display has 423ppi and the Nexus 6P's 5.7-inch QHD OLED panel manages a sharpness of 518ppi. This means that Sharp could be a beneficiary of the switch to high resolution OLED panels that is being seen across the industry, but it will require additional investment.
As a business, Sharp has suffered from a combination of a very competitive LCD market with a number of Chinese entrants offering less expensive displays, together with the industry switching from LCD to OLED panels where Samsung controls the majority of the market. Foxconn's acquisition of Sharp is interesting, partially as it is the largest acquisition of a Japanese company by a foreign investor and also because there appears to be significant investment opportunities for the Chinese business.