Rumor: Apple could begin making its own micro-LED screens

It doesn't take a genius to realize that there's no love lost between Apple and its suppliers, including but not limited to Samsung. The two companies have been bitter rivals in the smartphone space for nearly a decade despite the fact that Samsung supplies many components for Apple's devices, including the OLED display in the iPhone X. The pair's partnership may get a little less fruitful for Samsung soon. Bloomberg reports that Apple is secretly working on micro-LED display technology to eventually use on its own devices.

For those not in the know, micro-LED is a new type of display closely related to OLED. Essentially, it skips the backlight-and-filter approach of liquid crystal displays and instead forms subpixels out of microscopic LEDs. OLED works the same way, but micro-LED uses regular old GaN diodes instead of organic components. The tech should offer improved brightness and efficiency over OLEDs, along with reduced color shift and improved lifespan.

According to Bloomberg, Apple has a 62,000-ft² R&D facility dedicated to working on the new display tech close to its California HQ. The project almost didn't see the light of day—the publication says that Apple "almost killed the project a year or so ago," but that the tech has since been improving steadily and is now "at an advanced stage." Bloomberg says that Apple built a small test run of its own LCDs in Taiwan and then retrofitted them into iPhone 7 prototypes at the Santa Clara facility to see whether it could perform in-house display manufacturing at all. After the company's executives tested those devices, they decided to forge ahead with the project.

Folks paying attention to Apple shouldn't be too surprised by this development. The company has been rolling its own CPUs for years and recently started designing proprietary graphics processors. Using homebrewed micro-LED displays is just one more step in bringing its device manufacturing in-house. The company's investment in the technology started back in 2014 when it accquired a micro-LED-specialized startup called LuxVue.

The news agency expects the new displays to appear first in Apple's wearable devices. As Bloomberg notes, Apple's first OLED was deployed in the Apple Watch in 2014. Based on the lead time between that launch and the iPhone X, we might be waiting a while to see micro-LEDs in the iPhone. Apple isn't the only company working on the technology, though. At this year's CES, Samsung showed off a 146" display using micro-LEDs. Let's hope somebody starts making monitors using the technology.

Comments closed
    • Aranarth
    • 1 year ago

    I would like to point out that the sentence “apple is working in secret” is a false statement. They were before, but now they are not. Everyone knows what they are working on now. 😀

      • Peter.Parker
      • 1 year ago

      Maybe the secret is not “what” they are working on, but “where”…
      [quote<]... Apple built a small test run of its own LCDs in Taiwan [/quote<] OK, maybe not "where", but maybe "to what product is going to be used for" [quote<] ..retrofitted them into iPhone 7 prototypes [/quote<] OK, OK, you win, you cornered me with your impeccable logic.

    • Redocbew
    • 1 year ago

    I’m guessing someone at LG had a very bad day over this.

    • elites2012
    • 1 year ago

    i wont be buying anything that uses this tech in the future. apple gouges the crap out of their consumers. i usually buy apple products from a 3rd party consumer, like gamestop.

    • brucethemoose
    • 1 year ago

    Apple still doesn’t do alot of actual manufacturing themselves. Sure, they design the CPU, the GPU, have very specific requirements for batteries, LCDs and so on, but it’s still Samsung or TSMC or Foxconn or Sharp, and so on, that’s actually putting the physical things together en masse.

    They like playing competitors off each other. Instead of breeding their own horse and betting on it, they get the lowest bid from the cutting edge of the industry, which can change from moment to moment.

    In other words, I’m surprised they’re looking into manufacturing their own displays. It may not seem like it, but that’s actually a pretty big shift.

      • tipoo
      • 1 year ago

      Maybe it’s part of the reinvestment in ‘Murrica, especially being able to supply a small screen like the Watch domestically.

      • blastdoor
      • 1 year ago

      That would be a big deal, but I doubt that’s what’s happening.

      I suspect that this is a pilot facility to develop the manufacturing process, which Apple will own, but that large scale manufacturing will still be done by others.

      I’ll hazard a guess that Apple won’t be involved in large scale manufacturing until/unless we get to a point where manufacturing is almost completely automated. I don’t think Apple wants to be in the business of managing assembly line workers. But they probably wouldn’t mind being in the business of owning assembly line robots.

      edit:

      actually, it might be more than just not wanting to manage line workers. As the story about Glo Fo’s NY fab illustrated, modern factories are incredibly complex with or without line workers. Managing such a complex operation is a unique competency, and maybe it’s not one that Apple thinks it needs to own.

        • brucethemoose
        • 1 year ago

        Yeah, that’s probably right.

        As for automated manufacturing, I still think Apple would prefer playing the market more than vertically integrating. I can only see them doing it if Samsung snowballs and gets a huge lead over other manufacturers, forcing Apple to invest just to stay competitive.

      • strangerguy
      • 1 year ago

      Yup, that’s the genius of Apple’s business side of things: Own the critical IP, and let the lowest bidder produce the part as long as it doesn’t work against Apple’s interests.

      One obvious exception is Samsung. Besides the OLEDs that Apple can’t get from anywhere else for the X, it’s clear from the 7/8 teardowns they are already staying as far away from Samsung as they could in RAM and NAND.

        • oldog
        • 1 year ago

        It would seem Cook’s view of the future is the opposite of Bezos.

    • Wirko
    • 1 year ago

    Is it GaN for every colour? Wavelength depends on the chemical composition of the diode crystal, or so it used to be.

      • chuckula
      • 1 year ago

      My uneducated guess would be that different sets of diodes are doped with impurities that affect the band gap to produce one of the R/G/B colors while the basic diode structure for each diode is GaN.

      • willmore
      • 1 year ago

      For blue and green it’s likely to be, but not for red.

      • ludi
      • 1 year ago

      MicroLED is typically InGaN, and while basic GaN performs best in the higher frequency ranges, the output of an InN doped material is tunable from infrared to ultraviolet by varying the amount of InN and material thickness:

      [url<]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indium_gallium_nitride[/url<] What these latest Samsung and Apple displays are actually using is probably well guarded...for now.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    I always figured that MicroLED would be a better candidate for televisions than small format devices, but anything that drives progress is good, even if it does come from the rip-off, copy-someone-else-and-sell-it-as-your-own, proprietary, hidden-agenda, loaded-with-caveats corporation we all love to hate and hate to love.

      • the
      • 1 year ago

      Full size LED displays are starting to come down in price and matching the same pixel density as large 4K displays (think >70″). These are more commonly see as signage for large billboards on highways and in high foot traffic areas (Times Square etc.) They’re expensive but the picture quality is amazing as they typically support incredibly high refresh rates and 14 bit per pixel color on the display side. Samsung has recently made a play to get their LED tiles into select Cinemas to replace projectors. At CES, Samsung was showing off the ‘consumer’ version of this technology but at ~$150,000 estimated for a 4K 150″ screen, that is pushing the definition of consumer. On the bright side, scaling up to an 8K 300″ screen is simply putting for those together as they are truly borderless.

    • tipoo
    • 1 year ago

    Could make for an interesting market. Anyone can buy LCDs and OLEDs, but this could give Apple exclusivity, at least for a few years, on microLED.

    They’ve been taking over more and more of the banana, fully custom ARM CPU cores, battery chemistry, some time this year or next power IC, etc etc, so the display being a big part of the bill of materials and being the main way you interface with the device made it a prime target.

    I hope they can combine ProMotion with microLED, now that would be hawt.

      • the
      • 1 year ago

      Apple hasn’t been shy about investing to partners for displays. They reportedly held up Sharp for several year while that company was otherwise collapsing.

      Moving this technology in-house would be weird for them. They’re more than likely to develop this tech internally and just license it to a partner who can supply with the volume Apple needs. This arrangement lets Apple keep their panels exclusive where as currently the displays used in iPads tend to appear in competitor devices within a year or so.

        • tipoo
        • 1 year ago

        That was my first thought, but Gurman isn’t stupid, maybe it’s the scale of the facility that makes it different from prior secret OLED test labs. And even if they do outsource it, maybe they maintain technological exclusivity.

          • blastdoor
          • 1 year ago

          Yeah, definitely maintain exclusivity.

          I think the analogy here would be if Apple developed their own EUV process, but still used TSMC to do the manufacturing at scale. The advantage to Apple would be that TSMC couldn’t use that EUV process for other clients.

      • green
      • 1 year ago

      [quote<]Could make for an interesting market. Anyone can buy LCDs and OLEDs, but this could give Apple exclusivity, at least for a few years, on microLED. [/quote<] wouldn't that depend on what samsung's doing? considering, as per the article: [quote<]At this year's CES, Samsung showed off a 146" display using micro-LEDs[/quote<]

        • tipoo
        • 1 year ago

        The main difficulty with MicroLED is PPI scaling. A 146″ TV is on the other side of that issue. If Apple patents techniques to get them to the 300+ PPI they require, they could at least have market exclusivity for a few years.

          • green
          • 1 year ago

          i was thinking the opposite was true. that larger less dense displays were more difficult:
          [url<]https://www.oled-info.com/vuereal-developed-6000-ppi-micro-led-microdisplay[/url<] [url<]https://www.ledinside.com/news/2018/3/jbd_devises_new_micro_led_technology_to_make_ultra_compact_micro_led_microdisplays[/url<] granted they're both likely only single color arrays but it doesn't appear that ppi as an individual factor is much of an issue where i'm guessing they'll have trouble is aligning and transferring 3 separate color components for proper rgb additionally scaling up to a larger size without defects will be a challange

    • JosiahBradley
    • 1 year ago

    It probably has less to do with hating their suppliers and more to do with keeping the profits of the components in the supply chain.

    • chuckula
    • 1 year ago

    As much as I like to make fun of Apple, this actually is a cool piece of technology that’s a real advance over existing OLEDs. I hope they are actually able to get it out and that more displays adopt this technology too.

      • Grahambo910
      • 1 year ago

      Let’s hope the IP situation shakes out such that even if Apple is the first out the gate, that they won’t be the only horse in the race for long.

        • GrimDanfango
        • 1 year ago

        Yeah, that’d be my main concern – that they manage to sit on it for years, preventing its use in an actually-useful application like a high-end desktop monitor, or VR.

        All this tech is wasted on silly smart-devices.

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