OEM vs Non-OEM – What are the differences for Replacement Screens?

The replacement iPhone screen market is abundant with parts, from ‘cheap eBay rubbish’ to ‘genuine quality goods’. The market is washed out with screens, some of which are completely washed out!  

Having supplied iPhone screens to the masses since 2007, we thought it would be good to give some insight into the market from a buyer’s perspective.

When looking for replacement screens from places like eBay, Amazon or even reputable stockists like Replace Base you won’t always be able to pinpoint exactly which factory the screen was produced in. Less reputable sources may withhold this information on purpose, to hide poor quality or even gaps in their knowledge whereas others may not be able to specify because the screen is produced by multiple factories, each contributing individual components.

The main players

The replacement parts industry has a few main players based out of China, these are TianmaAUO (AU Optronics)Longteng and ShenChao. We’ve not mentioned some of the smaller factories, niche market manufacturers or new to market in an effort to keep it simple, but from now on we will refer to these big players as the ‘OEM’.

All of these OEMs are large corporations who make screens and electronics for several larger household names. Replacement screen production is a very small part of their business and contrary to popular belief, these companies usually don’t make the entire screen assembly! For many they will produce either the LCD panel or just the digitizer (to be bonded to the LCD panel later). 

Once the LCD panel has been produced by the OEM, it moves onto a smaller factory who will then assemble the entire screen into something more recognisable. This includes laminating the LCD and glass panel (a process that involves an optically clear adhesive) and installing the backlight and frame. It is at this point that the screen assembly is ready for wholesale.

All seems pretty simple, yeah? A fairly straightforward supply chain that should produce a consistent LCD screen. No. The problem lies in the variety of external factors that affect the quality of the screen. From now on it becomes a bit of a minefield. 

Not all specifications are created equal

For the majority of OEMs they aren’t setting out on an adventure to produce, say, a replacement iPhone 7 screen – it would be a legal mess if they were! In some cases these OEMs don’t even know the screens are being used specifically for iPhones.

A company or individual (possibly even one of the smaller factories) have given the OEM a specification of the replacement iPhone screen and booked them in for bulk manufacture. This is the same process you would probably go through if you had a great invention that needed mass production.

To cut costs, these individuals placing the orders will request that cheaper materials are used, that the technology and methods used to check the quality are basic and may even suggest testing is not always necessary. It is at this point the blame should be removed from the OEM, they are just following the spec they were given.

For example, you can have 2 AUO screens side by side, both from the same OEM, both possibly from the exact same factory but one has been manufactured as a WLCD and another as an IPS display. The same part manufactured in a completely different way, each with unique characteristics.

Screen A could cost $2 to produce, screen B $6

There appears to be no record of just how many variants come from each OEM but we have estimated that 90% of the screens from each OEM are produced within 3-4 specifications, suggesting inconsistencies are prevalent.

After the OEM, the part is in the wild

Once the LCD panel has left the OEM, the supply chain branches out to any one of the dozens of smaller factories to assemble the screen.  

This screen assembly isn’t hard to do – we have the equipment here to do the job! All you need is some basic tooling, some OCA (optically clear adhesive), an autoclave, a pressure chamber, the materials for the glass panel and frame and the glue needed to put it all together. The basic nature of assembly means variations and inconsistencies are common.

The first inconsistency can come from the OCA, the optically clear adhesive that sticks the outer glass panel to the LCD. This can come in sheet form or liquid form both with differing results. Something as simple as using the incorrect sheet can cause the screen to sit a millimetre too deep which will prevent the screen fitting correctly. Also, it is worth noting that different OCA’s can produce different colour tones, giving screens a slightly yellow or blue hue, different to the original screen the phone was bought with. Even the way the glue is cured can have an impact!

Another variation can come from the glass. Unsurprisingly glass can have a huge impact on the quality of the screen, for example, glass with a good density, a nice oleophobic coating preventing fingerprints and oily smooth touch can be affected by an incorrect colour choice. Not long ago we saw the iPhone market awash with screens that looked a creamy yellow colour despite being fairly good screens.

It is these smaller factories that are also responsible for the screen frame 99% of the time and often where more inconsistencies are noted. The frame is adhered to the outer rim of the glass and allows the glass screen to secure into the phone. It may sound trivial but so many of these screens are bonded using double-sided tape or poor glues that they result in screens lifting shortly after installation. Good, reputable factories will be using an epoxy resin or cold press process to bond the glass and frame, these do a much better job and last significantly longer.  

Significant variations in quality can be found in the backlight. Often differing quality in screen backlights can result in poor or uneven brightness and even excessive battery drain. This can normally be attributed to a cost-cutting method of build.

There are other smaller factors that need to be taken into consideration but as you now understand, the market is saturated with varying quality starting from the screen specifications running right the way through the process.

When sourcing aftermarket screens we use our trusted agents on the ground in China and Hong Kong to search out the best screens possible. We have been working with these agents for a number of years and their experience in the market and knowledge of the products helps us provide you with the best quality available. Tests are done on several screens to check quality and consistency and if it’s a factory or producer they’ve not used before then they will complete a factory inspection checking tooling, methods, and processes. We’ve found one month a screen can be the best in the world and the next they will be including a cheaper backlight, dropping the quality again. We have measures in place to know what the best screens in the market are at any given time.

When it comes to picking OEM or Non-OEM the decision is not always simple. If you have any questions about our replacement screens, get in touch with our sales team who are on hand to answer your questions. 

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