Sharp and Apple: What the Jefferies report really says

November 24, 2011, 1:53 PM UTC

There’s a lot more to the relationship than the rumors of an Apple-branded TV suggest

Source: Jefferies

Credit AllThingsD‘s John Paczkowski for finding the most headline-worthy nugget in the report issued Tuesday by Jefferies analyst Peter Misek on his recent trip to Japan.

The thrust of Paczkowski’s story — Apple Television Could Be Ready for Commercial Production by Feb. 2012 — was echoed Wednesday by more than a dozen writers who had only his brief item to rely on.

But there’s a lot more to Misek’s full report that the suggestion that Apple (AAPL) could selling television sets by mid-2012. In fact, those three sentences are the note’s vaguest and most speculative. The actual text:

For iTV we believe that Apple will take a line at the Gen 10 Sakai facility and produce a modified version of the Amorphous TFT. We believe retooling of the line has begun or is about to begin at the facility with February as a preliminary time frame for commercial production. This would put an iTV launch as early as the middle of 2012, which aligns with our other iTV checks. [emphasis ours]

Given how long rumors of an Apple-branded TV set have been floating around and the “fundamental go-to-market” problems Steve Jobs put his finger on 16 months ago, I wouldn’t bet the farm on a mid-2012 launch.

So what did Peter Misek learn in Japan? The “key takeaway,” as he calls it, is that Apple has sunk a lot of money — as much as a billion dollars — into a new supplier (most pointedly, not Samsung) and new screen technologies to build the next generation of iPads and iPhones with resolutions, battery life and prices its competitors will be hard-pressed to match. I quote:

  • We believe Apple has shifted display production and that Sharp has now become a large panel supplier, based on our checks. We believe that the Gen 6 Kameyama facility has been exclusively taken over for Apple purposes with Apple purchasing $500M to $1B of equipment for the manufacturing of iPad 3 and iPhone 5 LTE displays.
  • We believe production of iPad 3 displays began two weeks ago and is the cause of much of the noise in the supply chain.
  • We believe that Apple and Sharp together have a modified IGZO (indium, gallium, zinc) technology to achieve 330 dpi, which is sufficient for an HD display while not using IPS nor having to include dual-bar LED backlighting. In our view, this should lead to several design advantages, namely the device can be thinner, battery life should be longer, and the overall experience for users should be meaningfully improved.
  • We believe that Apple may use this facility for the vast majority of the iPad 3 displays. The price at which Apple will be able to procure these panels will be lower than expected as the capital commitment by Apple likely necessitates below market pricing in our view.
  • For the iPhone 5 LTE we also believe this new facility will be used to supply displays. The IGZO technology is perfect in that it offers near-OLED power consumption while having a lower cost and thinness that is only 25% greater than OLED, based on our checks. [OLED = Organic light-emitting diode]
  • Even after the iPad 3 launch, we believe Apple will continue to produce the iPad 2 and will lower the price by $100 to $200.
  • Going forward we believe that Apple and Sharp will jointly develop OLED panels for use in iPhone and iPad within the next 1 to 2 years. This contrasts with conventional wisdom that states Samsung will have a lock on OLED for that timeframe. The equalizer is a new printing technology based on a combination of daisy wheel and inkjet technology that “prints” the OLED onto a film that is then deposited onto glass. The yield improvements have been enormous and have enabled some trial runs to produce commercial yields. We expect Sharp/Apple to have a line testing this by the middle of 2012 with 2013 output possible.
  • Based on our checks we believe OLED is only slated for small and mid-sized panels (i.e., iPad, iPhone). iTV is unlikely to receive OLED treatment until 2015.

The other section of Misek’s report that’s getting widely quoted — about competitors “scrambling” to figure out what an iTV might be so as not to get “caught flat-footed” by Apple once again — could apply just as well to everything else Misek saw on his trip to Japan.

Note: Misek also believes that reports of weakness in the iPad market have been overstated, and although he cut his Q1 2012 iPad shipment estimate from 17 million to 14 million, he said he was doing so “due to Europe macro issues and lack of carrier subsidization.”