Apple’s efforts to commercialize MicroLED panels could hit stores from 2019, a new report claims, with the firm targeting displays for an upscale Apple Watch, AR glasses, and larger products like MacBooks. The new screen technology has distinct advantages over Apple’s current LCD and OLED panels, including brighter screens, lower power consumption, and thinner assemblies.
However, those advantages come with some downsides, too. While MicroLED technology isn’t especially new, one of the most significant remaining challenges is producing it in a cost effective way. Each of the pixels is made up, as the name suggests, of a tiny cluster of LEDs, each of which has to be manufactured to tight tolerances and then carefully set in place.
Apple is believed to be working on making that process more cost-effective, with facilities both in the US and abroad working on manufacturing methods. According to a report from Taiwanese site Digitimes today, those efforts are focusing on a range of sizes and potential use-cases. At first, though, MicroLED will join rather than outright replace OLED and LCD.
The initial MicroLED screens will be produced with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and target smaller devices. The screens will use a silicon-based backplane, and be 1.3- to 1.4-inches in size initially. They’ll be used in a new, high-end version of the Apple Watch, it’s suggested, potentially thinner and brighter than the current, OLED-based wearable. That could happen as soon as 2019, with production tipped to start late this year or early next year.
At the same time, Apple is also said to be collaborating with TSMC on smaller MicroLED screens. Those panels, measuring 0.7- to 0.8-inches, are intended for an augmented reality device, possibly AR glasses, it’s said. No mass production schedule has been set for that, though previous rumors have pegged Apple’s entry into the smart glasses segment as likely to take place around 2020.
MicroLED has some clear advantages for the technology, too. Its brightness could more readily compete with natural daylight, helping digital graphics remain visible. Meanwhile its lower power consumption than OLED or LCD, and its thinner design could help Apple make more lightweight, less bulky glasses, and with smaller batteries while still delivering reasonable usage times.
At the other end of the scale, Apple is also running a companion project for larger MicroLED screens. These would use a TFT-based backplane, rather than silicon, it’s said, and be used “in products sized much larger than its MacBooks,” the report claims. Production on such panels could start in 2019.