Bezel-Free & Alternative Aspect Ratio Smartphones to Climb to 120 Million Units in 2017

In a quest for increased display sizes and new forms of hardware differentiation, leading smartphone OEMs are turning to new solutions to increase the effective display viewing area without increasing the overall physical size of the devices.

Commenting on latest trend of 18:9 displays in smartphones, Research Director Peter Richardson, noted, “With the rise of super-fast 4G networks and beyond, smartphones have become the primary devices for content creation and consumption, driving demand for bigger displays. Clearly, there is a practical limit to the physical size of a smartphone, typically determined by the size of the user’s hands or pockets.”

Mr Richardson, continues, “As a result, rather than increase the size of the display, handset OEMs are turning to solutions that increase the effective viewing area of the display without increasing the overall size of the phone. These include bezel-less designs and new aspect ratios. Yet another solution, available in the near future, will be that of foldable displays, which could allow a 10-inch tablet-sized displays to be folded and accommodated in a compact 5.5-inch smartphone-sized design.”

With Sharp’s Aquos, we have already seen one of the first phones trying to break shackles on bezels in 2014. However, it was not successful due to limited roll-out, poor battery life and a bulky design. So was Xiaomi’s Mi Mix, launched in 2016 with much fan-fare but bench marked heavily on Sharp’s initial design. While more of a proof of concept and only available in limited quantities, it also suffered from a bulkiness that deterred many. Fast forward to 2017, the vertically integrated Korean smartphone brands LG and Samsung, leveraging their display business and technologies, are getting it right. The LG G6 sports a beautiful LCD-based 18:9 display and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 series shows-off a much brighter, color-rich, curved OLED display. Apple is rumored to also launch an OLED version bezel-less display in its “special edition” smartphone later this Fall, marking its tenth anniversary for the iPhone. This should drive the bezel-free or alternative aspect ratio trend into a high scale and high demand feature.  Next year’s flagships from competing brands will have to toe the line or risk being marginalized.

As with most areas of hardware differentiation, with few suppliers controlling OEMs’ access to this technology, the sustainability of the differentiation is levered to availability and supply. For 2017 both are likely to be limited, meaning that only those that gain access to the technology will be able to eke out some level of differentiation.

Counterpoint Research Director, Tom Kang, added: “While every brand would like to join the bandwagon, there will be serious supply constraints this year and first half of next year to match the demand. This will keep prices high and also enable deep-pocketed OEMs to lock-in the major part of supply. However by 2018 supply and availability issues should ease, and the amount of content formatted for 18:9 aspect ratio displays will become more widespread, leading to greater adoption. Samsung Display, JDI, LG Display should be the major beneficiaries, alongside display driver IC players. Chinese display manufacturers such as Tianma, BOE will also likely contribute by supplying these new wider, bezel-free displays to a growing crop of Chinese brands in the latter part of next year.”

Counterpoint forecasts more than 120 million smartphones including these differentiated alternative aspect ratio and near bezel-free displays will ship in 2017, accounting for almost 7% of the total smartphone shipments this year. This demand will more than triple next year as we see supply issues ease and more OEMs will be able to offer bezel-free flagship models in their portfolio in the second half of 2018. The trend towards bezel-less designs and 18:9 aspect ratio displays and the benefits and downside of both solutions, is captured in our in-depth report (here) which further evaluates whether these trends are likely to be adopted by all OEMs.

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