Apple Reportedly Working Towards Mass Production of Thinner and Brighter Micro-LED Displays

Apple is collaborating with its Taiwanese supplier TSMC to solve manufacturing issues preventing volume production of micro-LED display panels, according to DigiTimes.
Apple is reportedly collaborating with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to develop applications based on silicon-based backplanes (silicon wafers) aiming to sidestep the bottleneck that entails with the mass transfer of LED chips, indicated the sources.
In the meantime, the report claims Apple has downsized its micro-LED research and development team at its laboratory in northern Taiwan.

The downsizing doesn't necessarily mean that Apple has delayed or given up development of the next-generation display technology. In addition to its work with TSMC, it's possible that Apple has shifted the bulk of its micro-LED research back to its headquarters in the United States.

Apple's interest in micro-LED was first reported in late 2015, when it was discovered that the iPhone maker opened a secretive laboratory in Taoyuan, Taiwan to research display technologies like OLED and micro-LED for future devices. OLED is currently used in the Apple Watch and iPhone X.

Apple acquired micro-LED display maker LuxVue Technology in 2014, and some of its employees may be part of Apple's micro-LED research team, in addition to former employees of AU Optronics and Qualcomm subsidiary SolLink.

Micro-LED displays have many of the same advantages as OLED displays have over LCDs, including improved color accuracy, improved contrast ratio, faster response times, and true blacks given both have self-lit pixels, but they can be even thinner, much brighter, and more energy efficient than OLED.

Micro-LED displays also have inorganic gallium nitride-based LEDs, which have a longer lifespan than the organic compound used in OLED displays.

Apple was reported to begin trial production of micro-LED displays in late 2017, but it's unclear if the company proceeded with those plans given the manufacturing issues impeding volume production.

Wang Jyh-chau, CEO of LCD display maker Innolux, last year said that Apple's use of OLED displays could be short-lived, with micro-LED eventually becoming the mainstream display technology once it can be mass produced both reliably and affordably. Apple's use of micro-LED would likely begin in 2019 at the earliest.

While micro-LED displays could eventually be used for iPhones and iPads, the smaller-screened Apple Watch would be a good starting point.


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Apple Said to Aim for Trial Production of Micro-LED Displays by End of 2017

A new report posted by Digitimes today has taken a look into the micro-LED ambitions of multiple companies, including the timeline by which Apple might begin its trial production of micro-LED displays. Although it's yet to be confirmed, Apple is likely to use such display technology on a version of the Apple Watch launched in 2018 or later.

The report, citing industry sources, states that Apple's current aim is to manufacture a "small volume" of products with micro-LED displays towards the end of this year. Reports over the past few weeks have referenced similar timelines for Apple's micro-LED plans, and today's news also corroborates the location of Apple's trial production run, expected to be housed in a plant in Taoyuan, Taiwan.

A few makers engaged in R&D for micro LED display products, despite many technological bottlenecks, are expected to take the initiative to begin trial production in the second half of 2017 at the earliest, according to industry sources.

Apple has been keen in the development of micro LED technology following its acquisition of LuxVue in 2014, and recent market speculations also indicate that Apple is likely to crank out a small volume of micro LED display products from its plant in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan at the end of the year.
Rumors of an Apple Watch with a micro-LED display began last summer, when it was suggested that such a device may launch in 2017, but with the current reports of late-in-the-year trial productions on micro-LED displays it's likely that the 2017 "Apple Watch Series 3" will continue to use OLED technology. In regards to advantages, devices with micro-LED have the chance to be thinner, lighter, see an improved color gamut with increased brightness, and sport higher resolutions.

Apple's production on micro-LED is said to be the final realization of its acquisition of low-power microLED-based display maker LuxVue in 2014. Similarly, Samsung has been rumored to acquire micro-LED company PlayNitride, which is expected to begin a trial production on the displays sometime in the second half of 2017. Foxconn has also announced plans to acquire display startup eLux, "for development of next-generation micro-LED display technology."

Although no direct connection with Apple has been made by the manufacturers, their previous history as suppliers for the Cupertino company points toward either company, or both, as additional micro-LED suppliers for a future generation Apple Watch. According to industry sources speaking on Foxconn's eLux purchase, "The acquisition could provide a fast track for Foxconn to commercialize micro-LED technology," bringing it to a wider range of consumer products.


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