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Three major Japanese players poised to re-assert LCD for phones, tablets

Three of the largest Japanese LCD screen makers – Hitachi, Sony and Toshiba – are in talks to push together their LCD small panels business to address

By PETER WHITE

Published: 7 July, 2011

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Three of the largest Japanese LCD screen makers – Hitachi, Sony and Toshiba – are in talks to push together their LCD small panels business to address the tablet/smartphone market. The move is to ensure the long term survival of at least one Japanese screen maker as this market intensifies, with some of the biggest challengers coming from Korea and China.

Overnight this should produce the world's biggest producer of what is a vital component in smartphones and tablets. The story was broken by Bloomberg who quotes insiders at the companies. It also said that the Japanese government has promised investment funds if at least two of them - Sony and Toshiba - combined their activities.

We’re not sure what good rapid investment in LCD will do just as AMOLED screens are passing the 4 inch mark in terms of being viable in volume, and moving to take up much of this space – these three could be left holding the previous generation technology while Samsung, the leader in AMOLEDS by a country mile, takes all the high ground.

LCDs are the workhorse of the sector, ahead on price and one or two minor technical issues – but how long will that last? Also, the concentration of AMOLED in Samsung's hands has created shortages, and a willingness by handset makers such as Apple and HTC to look at LCD-based alternatives rather than be over reliant on a competitor. This in turn has led to considerable investment in more advanced smartphone LCD options such as Apple's RetinaDisplay and HTC's SuperLCD. Sony and LG have been particularly active in this area.

Hitachi's involvement in any deal would bring the kind of scale that would help Japan reassert its competitiveness against Korean and Taiwanese LCD makers. These two countries have achieved dominance in larger panels for TVs and other equipment, but Japan believes it still has a technological advantage in the smaller displays and has focused on this segment in order to stay competitive.

According to data from research firm DisplaySearch, Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi would have a combined share of more than 20% in the global market for smaller LCD panels. Last year, Toshiba had a 9.2% share by shipment value, while Hitachi held 6.3% and Sony 6%. Their combined share would put them ahead of Japan's Sharp, the leader in smaller LCD panels last year with 14.8% of the global market. Sharp was followed by Samsung with 11.9% and Chimei Innolux of Taiwan with 11.7%.

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