Apple monopolises global touch panel market

Apple is playing the tough boy in the playground, taking nearly 60 percent of the global touch panel capacity and leaving its competitors to fight for the tight left over supply.

That’s according to Digitimes, which quotes sources from upstream component makers, which have said Apple’s dominance is as a result of an internal goal to ship 40 million iPad products in 2011.

But while it’s all well and good for Apple, tablet PC maker sources are grumbling that the  component shortage is causing a detrimental effect on their shipment volumes. They claim that they can’t keep up with orders to be unable to catch up with their orders, a problem experienced especially by second-tier players.

The sources also pointed out that touch panels are suffering the most serious shortage as a result of Apple hogging the supply from manufacturers such as Wintek and TPK.

It’s apparently taking the supplies away from companies including RIM, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, which we imagine are none too pleased at Apple’s tactics.

Glass capacitive touch panels are the most difficult components to get hold of, but according to the sources they are trying to bridge the problems by using thin-film capacitive touch panels, which although work, have clear differences in terms of ruggedness and feel.  

Sources from iPad distributors told the DigiTimes that last year Apple pushed its OEM partners, giving our high orders and  and causing issues of low yields of touch panels. They added that this year Apple’s strategy of taking up most of the capacity should help the company quickly expand its sales.

Although this of course impacts on its competitors, they aren’t going to take the issue lying down, they’ve gone running to smaller touch screen suppliers such as Sintek Photronic, Egalax-empia Technology (EETI), AimCore Technology and J Touch.

Bob Raikes, Managing Director of European Display Research Specialist Meko, said  “Touch technology has been around for a long time but with more than twenty alternative technologies, every application seemed to need a different variation, depending, for example on stability, the use of a stylus and accuracy.

“Touch technology also tended to limit the visual quality of the display. That meant that it remained a niche, or a series of niches. Then Apple’s iPhone started to use projected capacitive touch technology. which didn’t degrade the image and allowed a new level of user experience. In the last year, there has been a huge swing to use projected capacitive technology in high volume portable devices, and the supply chain has been struggling to catch up.

“Some older LCD factories are being converted to make touch screens, but panel makers are also doing a lot to integrate this level of touch function directly into the display itself to reduce cost and further improve performance”.