Business / Corporate

Sharp plans elliptical smartphone screens

Bloomberg

Sharp Corp. is developing flat-panel displays in different shapes as it wins orders from Chinese smartphone makers.

The new technology reduces the size requirements for a screen’s outer edge, allowing for non-rectangular designs, including elliptical shapes, the company said in a statement Wednesday. Sharp is spending more than ¥35 billion expanding panel output as it taps demand for producers such as Xiaomi Corp., which outsells Apple Inc. in China and is entering 10 more international markets.

“The high-end smartphone display market is growing in China, with the speed of growth outpacing developed countries by about four times,” Sharp Executive Director Kazunori Houshi said in Osaka. “We are now the first-tier supplier to seven Chinese smartphone makers, and we are planning to add up to six more this fiscal year.”

ZTE Corp., Lenovo Group Ltd. and Xiaomi are among Chinese manufacturers turning to high-end liquid-crystal displays to challenge Apple with devices boasting a longer battery life and sharper screens. Sharp forecast profit would more than double this year as it ramps up sales of devices using its IGZO technology, which consumes less power than conventional panels, and reduces its reliance on the iPhone maker.

“There’s rising demand for Sharp’s high-end panels from Chinese smartphone makers,” said Yoshiharu Izumi, a Tokyo-based analyst at Navigator Platform Co. “The Chinese demand is filling in Kameyama No. 2 plant’s capacity, where orders for iPad panels is not growing much.”

Xiaomi is accelerating its own expansion to meet its goal of tripling phone shipments to 60 million this year. The company keeps costs down by selling directly to consumers online, and Lei Jun, its founder and chief executive officer, has set a goal of boosting sales to 100 million phones next year.

When the company began selling smartphones in Singapore this year, each batch sold out in just a few minutes. The company is adding sales in five other Asian markets as well as Turkey, Mexico and Brazil this year.

Chinese manufacturers are luring buyers with high specifications. Xiaomi’s Mi3 smartphone with 16 gigabytes of memory sells for 1,499 yuan ($241), or about a third the price of Apple’s iPhone 5c. Compared with the 5c, for example, Mi3 has a larger, sharper screen; a camera with higher-density pixels; and speedy quad-core processors from Nvidia Corp. or Qualcomm Inc.

“Sharp screens are the top-level screens,” said Joy Han, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Xiaomi. “We don’t want to compare Sharp’s panels to other makers, we just say Sharp’s panel is the world’s top screen.”

Han declined to comment on specifically which Xiaomi models use Sharp screens now, or what plans the company has to add to other models going forward.

Sharp has 10 primary customers in China, and more than three-quarters of orders from Chinese mobile manufacturers are for the high-end panels, the company said last month.