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Report: Apple Developing MicroLED Screens for Wearables and ARBy Shirley Siluk
Posted: April 3, 2018 9:34am PDT
In-house development teams at Apple are reportedly working on a new type of display technology -- microLED -- that could soon appear in some of the company's high-end wearables, such as the Apple Watch, as well other devices.
Citing unnamed "people familiar with the situation," Bloomberg last month reported that Apple is producing a small number of microLED test screens at a secret factory near its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. That report was backed up by new research this week from Digitimes, which said Apple is developing both small- and large-screen microLED displays that could be used in the Apple Watch (pictured above), wearables with augmented reality, and Mac devices.
MicroLED technology promises to deliver even higher-quality images than today's leading display tech, the OLED (organic light-emitting diode). Still in the early stages of development, microLED displays use tiny, individual LEDs to produce individual pixels in an image and are more energy-efficient, brighter, and longer-lasting than other display technologies.
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Today, Taiwan-based Digitimes Research reported that Apple is working with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to produce small microLED panels for use in the Apple Watch and other wearables. Apple could start mass-producing small panels later this year or sometime in 2019, and could be ready to manufacture larger microLED displays as early as 2019, according to senior analyst Luke Lin.
"However, Lin believes Apple will only adopt the [microLED] panel in the top-of-the-line models of its upcoming Apple Watch series initially," Digitimes noted. "The costs of the new [microLED] panels are 400-600% higher than those of the existing Apple Watch's same-size OLED panels, Lin estimates."
In its March 18 report on Apple's secret microLED production facility, Bloomberg said the program represents "the latest example of Apple bringing the design of key components in-house." The company has long produced its own processors for iPhones, and is looking at doing the same for Mac devices in the next few years, according to a separate report from Bloomberg yesterday.
"The shift would be a blow to Intel, whose partnership helped revive Apple's Mac success and linked the chipmaker to one of the leading brands in electronics," Bloomberg reported. "Apple provides Intel with about 5 percent of its annual revenue, according to Bloomberg supply chain analysis."
Apple's Multiple Patent Applications in Korea
Further evidence of Apple's interest in microLED technology arrived with a March 19 report by The Korea Herald, which said the company -- along with its subsidiary LuxVue Technology -- "have applied for more than 30 patents of [microLED] technology in South Korea over the last 10 years with the apparent aim of keeping Samsung and LG in check."
Government data shows that Apple has applied for 11 patents related to microLED technology in Korea over the past decade, the publication reported. An additional 23 patent applications came from LuxVue Technology, a microLED company founded in 2009 that was acquired by Apple in 2014.
At this stage in the technology's development, few companies have yet produced commercial devices with microLED displays. In February, Sony demonstrated a 120-inch display at Integrated Systems Europe 2018 that uses microLED and Crystal LED technologies. Samsung plans to launch its Wall MicroLED TV this coming August, and LG Display is also expected to unveil a large-screen microLED TV latr this year.
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