Smartphones are becoming increasingly powerful and more expensive as they grow slimmer and their displays slowly take over more of their surface area.
Displays have become the central aspect of the modern smartphone, with manufacturers using terms like OLED, AMOLED, IPS, InfinityEdge, FullView, and more to describe their bezel-less glass touchscreens.
It can be confusing to look past the buzzwords and determine which of these specifications are actually important, especially when it comes to smartphones.
However, the basic concept is this: there are two types of screen – LCD and OLED – and each which works in a different way.
We have outlined the differences between these two screen types and what they mean in terms of smartphone design below.
At one point, all modern smartphones barring a few exceptions used LCD displays – as they are relatively inexpensive and versatile.
LCD stands for liquid-crystal display, referring to the panel’s design which comprises a backlight, polarizing filters, and a liquid crystal array sandwiched between two glass substrates.
This backlight is turned on when the LCD is powered, and the nature of the light used in smartphones is very thin and light which makes it cheap to produce.
Commonly, you will see smartphone displays referred to as IPS or IPS LCD, which is the type of LCD panel on the device.
IPS (In-Plane Switching) LCD displays offer increased contrast ratios and colour depth compared to other types of LCDs and have become common on smartphones as a result.
While these panels are relatively cheap and will remain common on budget and mid-range phones in the future, they are steadily losing ground to OLED displays.
One of the major reasons for this transfer to the OLED standard is the ability to illuminate individual pixels while leaving others turned off, which LCD panels cannot do.
Another major reason, however, is the design requirements of next-generation smartphones.
OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display panels do not require a backlight, as pixels are illuminated individually by a chemical reaction.
This allows for drastically improved contrast ratios and power efficiency, as pixels displaying pure blacks will simply turn off.
While they are more expensive, OLED displays offer substantially better picture quality than LCD panels and they are becoming increasingly common in flagship smartphones from Samsung, Huawei, and Apple.
These displays also more commonly support HDR standards for contrast ratio and brightness levels, while also delivering much better viewing angles than LCD panels.
OLED really shines in allowing the exploration of new smartphone technologies, though, as it is a flexible panel which does not require a backlight.
This means that the display technology can be used to enable innovations like foldable smartphones or optical in-screen fingerprint sensors.
IPS LCD panels are slowly giving way to OLED displays in the top end of the smartphone market due to this multitude of differences, along with a push from the premium market for better-quality displays and unique designs.