MicroLED technology is a next-generation emissive display technology that promises highly efficient and bright displays that offer superior image quality with infinite contrast and a wide color gamut.
Apple is one of the leading MicroLED developers. Apple acquired Micro-LED developer LuxVue back in 2014- as the company is considering this next-generation display technology as suitable for its various products. Since the LuxVue acquisition, Apple accelerated its MicroLED R&D project and is developing solutions for smartwatches, AR and other display types.
LuxVue microLED patent image
and has not updated on the technology since, but several reports suggested that Apple has an R&D Micro-LED team in Taiwan and some analysts estimated that Apple actually aims to start low-volume Micro-LED production by the end of 2017 with mass production of smart watch displays beginning as soon as 2018.
Apple microLED Watch
For several years, we have heard reports that Apple is aiming to deploy MicroLED displays in future smartwatch projects. The latest Watch devices use LTPO OLED displays, but a microLED display will enable Apple to extend the Watch battery life and increase its brightness. According to reports in 2020, Apple is collaborating with several companies, mainly in Taiwan, and is actively involved with microLED R&D and production plans.
The latest MicroLED Microdisplays news:
Apple has been developing microLED displays for wearable devices for many years, but the company and its production partners are not yet ready to initiate mass production. It was reported before that the company planned to launch the first microLED-powered watch in 2023, but this was delayed several times.
According to a new report by TrendForce, Apple delayed its microLED plans again, now hoping to introduce the first device in 2026. The main problem, as always, is the high production costs.
Apple's microLED projects and goals have been reported and rumored many times in the past, and now the respected Nikkei Asia newspaper posted an interesting article with new details of Apple's microLED plans. Some parts of this plan were already published by other reporters, note.
According to the new report, Apple is aiming to get more involved in display manufacturing, to increase its control over its supply chain, and reduce its reliance on Samsung Display specifically. Apple has decided, therefore, to handle the LED transfer (pick-and-place) process by itself, at its R&D facilities in Longtan, Taoyuan, Taiwan.
Apple's involvement in the microLED display market is not a secret, and rumors over the years suggested that the company's first microLED display will be adopted in a smartwatch project.A couple of weeks ago we heard estimates that Apple is working to produce a 2.1" microLED display, to be adopted in the next Watch Ultra device, due in late 2023 or (more likely in 2024).
DSCC's Ross Young gives an update today, saying that according to his information, LG Display is building a small production line that will make microLED backplanes for Apple. The line will begin operation in the second half of 2024, which means that the watch device itself will be released in 2025. This timeline makes more sense than an early launch in 2023.
ETNews says that Samsung Display has launched a new project to develop microLED displays for smart watch applications. The company setup a new development team, with a goal to commercialize this technology and move it beyond its current R&D stage.
Samsung's plan, it seems, is to complete the development by the end of 2023, and then look into mass production, aiming to supply such displays to Tier-1 wearable makers such as Apple and Samsung Electronics.
There are some new rumors (or analyst estimates, really) that Apple is working to adopt a microLED display in its next Watch Ultra smartwatch, to replace the currently-used OLED display. The new display, according to what we hear, will have a 2.1" display. Apple aims, it seems to release its first microLED display powered device in 2024, or even possibly 2023.
The current (Gen-1) Watch Ultra has an advanced 1.92" (49 mm) 2000 nits 502 x 410 pixels LTPO AMOLED display.
Apple's latest iPad Pro tablets use a mini-LED backlit LCD (which Apple refers to as Liquid Retina XDR). While most reviews of the new display are quite positive, some users are complaining of "blooming" - the edges of bright objects on dark backgrounds tend to 'bleed' as the dimming zone is not small enough.
miniLEDs improve over LCD as they introduce thousands of dimming zones, which increases contrast and improves power consumption. The dimming zones, however, are sometimes not small enough, as some users find out, and cannot compete with an emissive technology such as OLED or microLED.
Display market analysts from Yole Developpement posted an interesting article, that speculates that Apple and Huawei are looking into microLED displays based on Si-CMOS micro-ICs. This model could have tremendous implications for the display market.
The idea is that the device maker (Apple is likely to be the first to go down that route) will source micro LEDs from LED producers (or produce these in-house) and source microICs from foundries. Apple could then assemble these into its own displays, in-house. This means that in this model there's no room for traditional display makers which could lead to large disruptions in the display market, according to Yole.
According to a report from Taiwan's Economic Daily news, a new mini-LED and micro-LED display factory is under planning in Taiwan's Hsinchu Science Park. The new fab is built by Apple (who will invest $334 million) in collaboration with AU Optronics and Epistar.
According to the report, the Science Park Administartion approved Apple, Auo and Epistar's plan on February 18. The new fab will act as an expansion of Apple's existing display center in Taiwan.
Yole Developpement reports that about 5,500 microLED patents (2,500 patent families) have been filed, by more than 350 organizations. The rate of patent filing is growing exponentially - 40% of the patents were filed in 2019.
According to Yole, the recent patent filing shows that the industry is moving from prototypes to commercial consumer displays. Other notable new finding include that startup companies are a major innovation force, Apple is slowing down with its IP (but this could mean that the company is now focused on commercialization), and Samsung pursues multiple development tracks. BOE is another strong microLED IP player, with almost 150 patent familiies filed in 2019.