Optical Lamination, or the Lack Thereof

When Apple introduced the retina display on the iPhone 4, they explained that it wasn’t just about the pixel density. They noted that the panel was laminated to the glass, transforming it into the effect of pixels on glass, rather than under it.

During the months preceding the new iPad’s launch I, like many others, assumed this process was an integral part of what Apple considered a “retina” display:

The second improvement comes from the lamination process they will presumably use to place this panel under the glass. It’s going to look like a live magazine.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I found out that the new iPad’s display is not laminated to the glass. It was one of the only things I complained about after using it for two weeks. Why isn’t the new iPad’s display laminated?

I emailed a few people at Apple in the hope that one would reply. Of course, none did. Idle speculation probably isn’t productive, but I can think of two reasons why the new iPad doesn’t have a laminated display.

The first regards replacement iPads. Since Apple replaces damaged iPads with refurbished ones at low cost to the customer (sometimes even for free), Apple likely takes a small hit per unit. After consulting with a few Geniuses, one of the most common replacements is due to screen breakage. To create refurbished units, Apple usually only has to replace the glass. But if the glass and a very pricey display panel are laminated, the cost of creating a replacement unit is dramatically higher.

The second possible reason concerns the manufacturing process. From what I know about optical lamination, the process is made riskier with a larger surface area. The iPad’s display is significantly larger than the iPhone’s, and with that size increase, the lamination process has a higher potential for failure. Since the new iPad’s display is one of the most expensive components of the device, this is a point where Apple does not want the process to fail, since an unsuccessful lamination would render a panel useless.