Rumors suggest that Apple has decided to adopt Sharp’s IGZO screen technology for upcoming versions of the iPad and MacBook Pro, with new models debuting in the first part of 2014. If true, that’s a major win for Sharp — and for consumers, who would benefit from the longer battery life and better display quality that IGZO offers.
The term IGZO is an acronym standing for indium gallium zinc oxide; it refers to the semiconducting material used to build the active layer of the LCD screen. Currently, Apple builds its high-resolution displays on amorphous silicon (a-Si), but the conventional LCD technology has scaling problems at the densities Apple uses. Wiring sizes are relatively large, which means Apple has to use more powerful backlights to achieve the same level of brightness. Amorphous silicon technology also tends to leak more current than IGZO, which means displays consume more power and must be refreshed more quickly
IGZO’s power consumption compared to a conventional LCD when displaying the same content.
IGZO’s high electron mobility, reduced leakage, and smaller wiring has more trickle-down effect than Reaganomics. All these benefits translate into products that can use dramatically less power than their LCD equivalents under identical viewing conditions. Fewer backlights means a lighter device or slightly more room for a battery, and makes hot spots less of a problem. Sharp claims that it can improve power consumption by inserting a “pause” in between refresh cycles, and Intel has actually talked up a similar technology in laptops, but it’s not clear if the two companies are referThe only downside to IGZO adoption is that the panels are likely significantly more expensive than conventional a-Si, even after several years of production. Estimates for the cost difference range from 8-10x at the 55-inch panel size, and while we expect this to be lower for small panels, Apple could still wind up paying 1.5x – 2x as much for the same size panel. That said, the net benefits should still be significant, and a different panel type gives Apple more flexibility if it wants to build devices that burn more power in different areas.
ring to the same technology.
The debate over screen technology indirectly highlights a shift in which components burn the most power inside a tablet or laptop. Once upon a time, CPUs accounted for the vast majority of a system’s power consumption, in any setting. As chips have slimmed down and display resolutions have skyrocketed, however, this has changed. While CPUs will still account for the bulk of power consumption under load, idle or low-impact power consumption is influenced by screen type just as much as CPU technology.