by Ray Wang
The gradual technical maturation of narrow bezels means a higher screen-to-body ratio and wider, thinner laptops. With this change in the physical appearance of laptops, manufacturers are once again looking to incorporate panels with a 16:10 aspect ratio. Despite Apple’s longstanding adoption of 16:10 and the aspect ratio’s once-popularity in Windows laptops, global market intelligence provider TrendForce projects a <2% share of 16:10 screens in the non-Apple laptop market due to adoption rate, impact to consumers, and a need for panel makers to optimize cuts made to the mother glass.
According to TrendForce, panels with a 16:10 aspect ratio enjoyed a period of widespread use a few years ago, but fabs soon took into account the poor yield when cutting the mother glass into 16:10 panels; this served as the catalyst for the inception of 16:9 panels. At the time, 16:9 became the mainstream standard for all non-Apple laptops.
The usage of 16:10 panels has seen a resurgence in 2019 because of a joint effort by Dell and Sharp to redevelop the format. In particular, Sharp’s recent injection of 16:10 production capacity into Gen. 8 fabs seems to be an effort to increase the brand’s market share in the laptop space and explains its willingness to collaborate with Dell, whose first 16:10 laptop was just released in August, with Taiwanese, American, and Chinese manufacturers to follow suit in Q2 2020. Nonetheless, TrendForce maintains a conservative outlook towards the aspect ratio’s market share next year with regards to panel maker, laptop maker, and end-user perspectives.
Bottlenecks Confronting Panel and Laptop Manufacturers
Fewer 16:10 panels can be made from the same piece of mother glass because of the increased height of the panels. This inefficient yield translates to a lower sales revenue for panel manufacturers. One example of this is 13.3 inch panels. Up to 24 such panels, with an aspect ratio of 16:9, can be cut from a single sheet of Gen 5 glass – an 88% yield, but the same mother glass can only produce 20 panels (a 77% yield) if the aspect ratio is changed to 16:10. Despite ongoing discussions between laptop and panel manufacturers regarding the potential use of 16:10 panels, these discussions remain at the technical and suggestion-based stage, as opposed to real cases of mass production.
Because there exists no industry standard dimensions for panels with 16:10 aspect ratio, different fabs produce different sizes of panels. This poses a major point of uncertainty for laptop manufacturers. If they design products in accordance with current panel specifications, once fabs change panel dimensions, manufacturers will have to restart the design, molding, and mass production for the relevant components, incurring additional expenses in the process. As a result, most laptop manufacturers are in the active monitoring stage at this point.
The Consumer’s Perspective
Whether there is a difference between the two aspect ratios for the end user depends in part on the users themselves, but the vast majority of websites and movies are made with 16:9 in mind. Whereas Macbooks have always been 16:10 laptops, consumers are unlikely to note the difference in everyday use because of the Macbook’s different operating system. On the other hand, manufacturers and fabs alike are yet to find a convincing advantage to market 16:10 panels to consumers, further slowing down the development of this aspect ratio.