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Little-Known Suppliers Poised to Benefit From Apple iPhone

It was the late 1990s, and entrepreneurs Steven Abramson and Sidney Rosenblatt were pitching an electronics giant on their new flat-screen technology. It didn't go well.

Little-Known Suppliers Poised to Benefit From Apple iPhone

The product was unproven, and, given that the startup had a pittance in the bank, the manufacturer had doubts about its long-term viability. "You want us to bet the future of our company on your technology?" the would-be customer said after the presentation. "Steve and I looked at each other and said, 'He has a point,'" Rosenblatt said in a recent interview. He didn't identify the manufacturer he was pitching.

Almost 20 years and half a billion dollars in research and development later, the pitch finally paid off. Apple Inc. will soon release a new iPhone using the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, technology that Abramson and Rosenblatt toiled on for so long. The company they run, Universal Display Corp., is valued at $5.4bn, almost double a year ago — a rally fueled by winning the world’s most valuable company as an end customer.

As Apple fights to maintain its technology leadership in smartphones, it’s turning to little-known suppliers that have spent years or even decades developing components in the hope they might one day enjoy widespread adoption. Like Universal Display, other companies including Lumentum Holdings Inc. and AMS AG are also poised to benefit from the next version of Apple’s bestselling device.

The iPhone 8, as analysts tentatively dub it, is the most significant upgrade to Apple’s handset lineup since at least 2014. Smartphones have evolved from communication devices into portable hubs for identity, payments, entertainment and new experiences like augmented reality. That requires major hardware upgrades, forcing Apple to scour the global electronics supply chain for tools and services that often had narrower uses until now.

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