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.