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Biel sees iPhone8 spurring changes

By Xu Jingxi | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-14 09:23

Biel Crystal (HK) Manufactory Ltd, the world's largest producer of screen glass for smartphones, expects a new round of rapid growth for the industry over 2017-19, spurred by the "trend-setting" new design of the iPhone 8.

The new generation of iPhones will be launched in September as the Apple handset celebrates its 10th anniversary and is set to be a "huge difference" from the iPhone 7, establishing a new trend for smartphone screen design, Biel President Yeung Kin-man, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

"The peak of market demand for outer screen glass, following the new trend, will come in 2018," Yeung predicted, aiming to increase Biel's annual output value to HK$50 billion ($6.4 billion) by then, almost doubling the current scale.

Based in Huizhou, Guangdong province, Biel produces high-end outer screen glass for Apple and Samsung smartphones as well as products for some domestic smartphone makers.

It provides between 40 percent and 50 percent of the outer screen glass for smartphones in the global market, according to Yeung.

Biel is also a world-leading producer of glass panels for watches of both luxury collections like Rolex and smart gadgets like Apple's iWatch.

But the company's ambitious growth in its output value will mainly come from its smartphone business, which is expected to contribute between 60 percent and 70 percent of the HK$50 billion output value in 2018, Yeung said.

"Apple, Samsung and domestic smartphone makers like Huawei have all been making great efforts upgrading screen designs with new technologies such as flexible displays and fingerprint identification," said Nicole Peng, research director at global consultancy Canalys, adding that there are already patents registered for the technology of embedding the fingerprint identification module in the screen.

"In the smartphone industry, it usually takes about three years for a new design to be put into mass production because manufacturers like Biel need time to upgrade their production lines," said Jin Di, research manager at IDC China.

"The reason why manufacturers of outer screen glass for smartphones saw their business growth slow down in 2015 and 2016 is they were upgrading production lines. Big brands, especially Apple, are very cautious about putting a new design into mass production, demanding quality and stability," Jin said.

"The screen manufacturers will embrace peak in growth in the second half of 2018 as they will be capable of mass production by then."

Biel will continue to expand its production capacity in Huizhou and speed up automation to ensure quality and stability, the company's president, Yeung, said.

With a total investment of more than HK$36 billion, Biel's production bases in Huizhou now cover nearly 1.8 million square meters and have 120,000 workers.

Another 30,000 workers will be hired by 2018 but the manufacturer is shaking up its labor-intensive business model with a goal of raising the automation level in production from 20 percent to 80 percent, Yeung said.

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