When Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) announced the new iPhone X, I was more than a little disappointed to learn that the new phone doesn't include Apple's ProMotion display technology found on the 10.5- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets.
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ProMotion, for those of you unfamiliar with Apple's marketing jargon, simply refers to displays that can update their contents at a maximum of 120 times per second, twice that of conventional mobile and personal computer displays.
This technology, as I've written in the past, really is a game changer in terms of the user experience. Everything you do on a device with ProMotion is smoother and just plain better. It is a technology that I sorely wanted to see on at least the iPhone X (though, ideally, it'd have come to both the iPhone X and the iPhone 8/8 Plus as well), but, unfortunately, my initial intuition that it'd be tough to add to the new phones proved correct.
We do know, thanks to some good reporting from Bloomberg, that Apple "tested" ProMotion displays on the iPhone X but ultimately decided to scrap the feature. I don't know what Apple's reasoning was for doing so, but I have some educated guesses. Here are the three most likely, in my view.
1. Manufacturing yields
Numerous reports indicate that the OLED display on the iPhone X is already extremely tough to manufacture. If Apple's claims prove correct, it'll easily be the most beautiful smartphone display in the market when the iPhone X finally makes it to market.
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Building such beautiful, high-quality OLED panels in the required form factor is just plain tough.
One possible reason for the lack of ProMotion on this year's iPhone X, then, may have simply been one of manufacturing yields. If Apple had decided to green-light the use of ProMotion panels in the iPhone X this year, it could've had an adverse effect on what are probably already low manufacturing yields -- thus increasing cost and decreasing panel supply (since manufacturing capacity is likely fixed; the fewer panels that work, the fewer the panels that can be produced).
The new iPhone X is already coming late to market and the supply situation once it does arrive isn't clear, so if adding ProMotion would've lowered manufacturing yields significantly, it might've been a poor choice for this year's iPhone X.
2. Technology readiness
Although Apple is said to have "tested" the ProMotion technology, perhaps the technology simply wasn't ready. Image quality may have suffered with Apple's current implementation, or perhaps power consumption was simply too high.
A year of additional work could allow the company's display technologists to refine the technology to consume less power and/or to deliver the required image quality. Sometimes technology just isn't ready when it needs to be -- this comes with the territory when you are an innovator.
3. Bill-of-materials inflation
Even if we suppose that it wasn't a question of yields or technology readiness, but one of cost (e.g., greater complexity in panel manufacturing), then it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Apple held off on adding ProMotion simply to keep its cost structure/margin profile in check.
Apple already had to dramatically increase the price of the base iPhone X model compared to the base iPhone 8 Plus model to cover the increased bill-of-material costs that the OLED display, 3D sensing, and stainless steel frame drove. Adding ProMotion to the mix may have further increased the bill of materials.
Such an increase would force Apple to do one of two things:
- Reduce its own margin to maintain the already elevated selling prices of the iPhone X; or
- Increase the prices of the iPhone X even further, which could hurt demand for the device.
Perhaps Apple didn't want to deal with either possibility this year and simply decided to save ProMotion technology for next year's models.
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