For much of 2020, there were persistent rumors that this would be the year the iPhone upgraded to the buttery smoothness that 120Hz displays bring. That turned out not to be the case, with the word being that a higher refresh rate would negatively impact a battery life that was already weaker than previous generations.
We’ve already heard that this weakness will be corrected with the iPhone 13, and this has now been backed up via a report from Korean publication The Elec. The piece states that Apple is planning to bring OLED displays with low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) tech to a couple of its handsets in 2021.
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The report explains that the panels, sourced from LG, feature LPTO thin-film transistors for “higher tier iPhone models launching next year.” It later adds that two of the four handsets Apple is planning will feature LPTO tech, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this will likely be the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
So what is LTPO and why should you care? In short, LTPO panels allow for more power-efficient displays. A case in point: the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6 both feature LTPO panels and match the 18-hour battery life of previous generations, despite the addition of a power-sapping always-on display.
As display analyst Ross Young pointed out earlier this year, LTPO opens the door to variable refresh rates from 1Hz to 120Hz depending on the activity. If your phone is just displaying the time in always-on mode, then 120Hz is just overkill, and draining the battery for no reason. If you’re gaming, however, it can make a huge difference to how gameplay feels, opening the door to 120fps gameplay.
All very promising, but is The Elec’s report correct? While we won’t know for sure until September 2021 when Tim Cook introduces us to the iPhone 13 family, early signs seem positive. Elsewhere, renowned Apple analyst Mig-Chi Kuo and Mizuho Securities have independently suggested 120Hz screens will arrive in iPhones next year, so barring any production mishaps, the iPhone 13 Pro could be the most significant Apple upgrade in years and allow the phone to go toe to toe with the Samsung Galaxy S21, which is also rumoured to arrive with an LTPO screen.