Apple's micro-LED plans are making headlines again today, with Nikkei quoting industry sources that believe the Cupertino company is still on track for a wide adoption of micro-LED screens in its wearable devices "as soon as 2018." That timeline fits into a previous report from May, which pegged Apple for a trial production of micro-LED displays by the end of 2017, and a predicted inclusion on an Apple Watch launched in 2018 or later.
If true, analysts speculate as to whether this means Apple would then cut dependence on Samsung and its production of OLED screens currently used on Apple Watch. Separately, another rumor has suggested that Samsung is looking into purchasing micro-LED manufacturer PlayNitride, which could then lead into a scenario where Apple sources micro-LED screens from Samsung for Apple Watch. Falling in line with previous reports, Nikkei's sources state that Apple's micro-LED efforts will be housed in a plant in Taoyuan, Taiwan.
According to a person with knowledge of the display industry, Apple remains "the only company" that could potentially roll out micro-LED on a wide scale at this early stage in the technology's development. Devices with micro-LED have the chance to be thinner, lighter, see an improved color gamut with increased brightness, and sport higher resolutions. Micro-LED isn't expected to become a leader in the smartphone display supply chain, including that of iPhone, until 2020 at the earliest.
"Apple is working very hard to foster the micro-LED technology ... the company could push the use of new display tech as early as next year," said an executive with close knowledge of display technology.
"At this point, Apple is the only company who is able to roll out micro-LED, a technology that is still at an early stage of development, and cover the high costs incurred by the low yield rate," the person said.
According to Eric Chiou, an analyst at research company WitsView in Taipei, "With micro-LED, Apple is looking to bestow brand-new products with unique designs to really differentiate itself from rivals such as Samsung." Of course, being so far out from a product launch with a micro-LED screen, it's impossible to know exactly what Apple plans to do with the technology, whether it's placed within a next-generation Apple Watch or a separate, unannounced device.
Apple's production ramp-up on micro-LED is said to be the final realization of its acquisition of low-power microLED-based display maker LuxVue in 2014, with rumors specifically surrounding a new micro-LED-powered Apple Watch beginning in summer 2016. Foxconn is also entering the micro-LED supply chain, with plans to acquire display startup eLux, "for development of next-generation micro-LED display technology."