by Anton Shilov
06/03/2013 | 11:59 PM
Shipments of large-sized liquid crystal display (LCD) panels for tablet devices reached their highest level yet in the first quarter, with many panel manufacturers delivering increased orders to clients including Apple’s main rival Samsung Electronics, according to HIS iSuppli.
Tablet panel shipments for the January to March period amounted to 60.3 million pieces, up 2% from the previous quarter and a sizable 115% surge from the same time a year ago. Each month in the first quarter this year saw shipments exceed 18.4 million pieces, a breathtaking increase considering that shipment levels never went higher than 8.1 million pieces during the same three-month period in 2012. The figure alone for March this year, at 21.9 million, was equivalent to tablet panel shipments for all of the first quarter in 2012.
All told, LG Display of South Korea was the top tablet panel manufacturer, while Apple was the largest buyer of the panels, even though Apple’s tablet panel orders actually fell during the quarter.
The remarkable results of the first quarter demonstrate clearly the market’s continuing appetite for tablets. Along with smartphones, tablets are the most popular gadgets of the day, eclipsing all other devices including the once-mighty PC. And with consumers having more tablet choices than ever, LCD panel manufacturers are equally happy to pump out as many panels as needed by client manufacturers. The record first-quarter shipments came on top of an extremely robust December figure that had previously bested all marks, which makes the current feat that much more impressive.
Apple continued to claim the largest quantity of tablet panel orders during the first quarter among all tablet makers, accounting for more than 36% of the market. Apple’s share of tablet panels fell, however, from 41% in the fourth quarter last year, owing to lower panel orders during the first quarter. With the iPad mini eating into some of the regular iPad’s sales, Apple did not wish to keep a larger inventory than was needed.
Apple orders the 7.9” panel for its iPad mini and the 9.7” panel for the full-sized, regular iPad. The maker of the industry’s best-selling tablet obtains its iPad panels from three sources: LG Display and Samsung Display, both of South Korea; as well as from AUO of Taiwan. LG Display is the biggest supplier of the three, and Apple alone represents more than 80% of LG Display’s total tablet shipments. A fourth supplier, Sharp, was believed unable to meet Apple’s cost-down target, prompting Apple to temporarily discontinue procuring panels from the Japanese supplier.
Samsung had the second-largest tablet panel orders after Apple, equivalent to 16% of total tablet display shipments for the period. Samsung’s Galaxy tablet line continues to do well in the market among consumers, which explains the South Korean maker’s high-volume order. Samsung sources the panels for the Galaxy from its own internal division at Samsung Display, as well as from BOE of China. For the second half of the year, panels for the Samsung Galaxy could also be coming from Taiwanese makers AUO and CPT.
In third place among tablet manufacturers was Amazon, with approximately 7% of tablet display shipments for the market. Amazon, however, had reduced tablet orders during the first quarter in order to adjust for lower sales of its Kindle Fire product after the holidays—which, unlike the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy, has not been a consistent performer in retail.
Aside from the Top 3, the other tablet brands with notable panel orders for the period were Acer, Asus, and Microsoft for its Surface tablet offering. Both Barnes & Noble and Sony, in contrast, had minimal presence.
A notable development among the purchasers of tablets during the period was the large increase in the collective market share of a group of smaller tablet brands, classified in the “Other” category. The brands here are responsible for a plethora of low-cost tablets being made for the market, but the popularity of these so called white-box offerings in Asia drove market share for this group to 32%, up from 21% in the previous quarter. Though largely undifferentiated, the group itself is now closer in its combined tablet panel orders to Apple’s own portion of the market.
Among tablet panel suppliers, LG Display and Samsung Display were the top manufacturers, accounting for more than 50% of total tablet panels shipped to tablet brands during the period.
CPT from Taiwan, which had the most dramatic shipment increase in the first quarter, was the third-largest supplier, followed by fellow Taiwanese makers Innolux and AUO.