Sharp has reportedly begun talks with Dell, Intel, and other US companies for a potential share in the display firm, in a move that may be designed to put pressure on existing Foxconn negotiations. The discussions - which are also believed to be ongoing with Qualcomm, according to the WSJ's sources - would see struggling Sharp offer up a stake in return for as much as $240m depending on the suitor, with the spoils of the deal being a guaranteed supply of the company's IGZO displays.
According to the insiders, Sharp is hoping to squeeze up to $240m from Intel or Dell, though its ambitions for Qualcomm investment are more modest. The display firm has been mired in ongoing negotiations with Foxconn/Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. for several months, with the firms needing to reach a conclusion by March 2013 but uncertainty around Sharp's value stalling the deal.
Unofficially, however, a Sharp executive speaking to the newspaper said that while the companies continue to talk, "the unpredictability of its earnings are hindering" the likelihood of a deal. Others familiar with the deal have said that Sharp is laying on hyperbole about IGZO's promise as a key negotiating point, routinely describing it as "potentially game-changing technology."
That game-changer comes down to how IGZO works, replacing the substrate material among other changes, and in doing so reducing power consumption and increasing pixel density. That makes for displays that can offer the same brightness as regular LCD but with lesser power demands, or alternatively use the same power as traditional panels but for a much brighter picture, useful for outdoor applications.
IGZO production, however, has struggled to meet Sharp's goals, and so far the panels are only showing up in a limited way in tablets and phones for the Japanese market. However, Sharp claims it is ready to offer a 32-inch IGZO panel that runs at an impressive 3840 x 2160 resolution, and which could well find its way into future Apple products according to some industry speculation.
In fact, Apple involvement in Sharp's ongoing business has been the source of display channel muttering for some time. One analyst has suggested that a $2bn blip on Apple's most recent financial results sheet was in fact a helping hand to the Japanese firm, potentially bringing forward future panel orders onto the books so as to help shore up the supplier.
Sharp has declined to comment on whether it is in negotiations with companies outside of Foxconn, and neither Dell, Qualcomm, nor Intel would comment on the rumors. It's possible, however, that the move to widen negotiations - or, indeed, the leaks that such a move is being considered - is a tactical one to increase pressure on Foxconn management.