Apple is working on next-generation display technology called microLED, which will be coming to the Apple Watch Ultra first. We're not expecting the Apple Watch Ultra with microLED until at least 2025, but rumors about the device have been ramping up already.
This guide highlights everything we know about Apple's work on a microLED watch and what Apple has in store for microLED in the future.
MicroLED Apple Watch Ultra
Introduced in 2022, the current Apple Watch Ultra uses standard OLED technology. MicroLED is, as the name suggests, LED display technology rather than OLED display technology, but it offers many of the benefits of OLED along with some improvements.
The microLED Apple Watch is expected to include a 2.1-inch diagonal display, but we aren't aware of any other features that the device might get as of yet.
Apple is already testing microLED displays for the Apple Watch, and the displays are said to feature brighter, more vibrant colors and a look like content is "painted on top of the glass."
It is unclear if Apple will update the Apple Watch Ultra prior to when it implements microLED, but given that we're at least two years away from the new model, we could get an in-between update. microLED is said to be the next major update that Apple will bring to the Apple Watch Ultra.
MicroLED is a fairly new technology that's been around for about two decades, but it has not yet been mass produced, because of the costs associated with it and the difficulty of making the displays. Samsung, for example, has made a microLED TV, but it sells for $150,000.
As the name suggests, microLED uses microscopic LEDs for individual pixels. The production process involves creating little tiny LEDs on a wafer and transferring them to a backplane, a process that hasn't been perfected yet because of the time that it takes to test all of those LEDs. Since this is nascent technology, there are new cutting-edge production techniques in the works, and multiple companies are focused on figuring out microLED.
Compared to LED displays, microLED is much more energy efficient and it would likely notably increase battery life on the Apple Watch Ultra and other devices that adopt the technology in the future. Unlike OLED, there's much less risk of screen burn-in, and microLEDs have a longer potential lifetime.
MicroLED displays also provide contrast improvements and faster response times because of the pixel-level individual lights, plus the color is better and brighter. In a nutshell, it's a next-generation technology superior to OLED and miniLED.
Like OLED displays, microLED displays can be flexible, so if Apple eventually transitions to foldable devices, those products could use microLED. The technology would also work for curved displays.
Apple's In-House Display Development
MicroLED is not like Apple's other display technologies because it is the first display type that Apple is planning to design in-house. Rather than using a third-party display supplier like Samsung or LG Display, Apple is designing the displays itself and having them manufactured by partners like TSMC.
Apple has spent over six years working on microLED technology, and it has invested billions into developing new displays. Way back in 2015, Apple opened a secret laboratory in northern Taiwan to work on thinner, brighter, and more energy-efficient displays for future iOS devices, and rumors suggest that factory was dedicated to microLED. According to Bloomberg, it is one of the company's most "critical projects."
Apple reportedly has more than 300 employees working on microLED display development, but little is known about it outside of the company as of now. When Apple is able to transition to its own in-house displays, it will no longer need to rely on display partners.
MicroLED for Other Apple Devices
With OLED displays, Apple started with the Apple Watch before rolling out the technology to other devices, and the same thing is expected for microLED. The Apple Watch Ultra will be the first device with microLED, but Apple is planning to expand it to the iPhone, and it could also be introduced for the iPad and the Mac in the future.
With OLED, the original Apple Watch introduced in 2015 had an OLED display, and it was the first Apple device to use the technology. Two years later, Apple brought OLED displays to the iPhone with the iPhone X, and now there are rumors of OLED iPads and MacBooks.
MicroLED Launch Date
The Apple Watch Ultra with microLED display is coming in late 2025, according to display analyst Ross Young and analyst Jeff Pu, but other rumors suggest that it might not be introduced until 2026. Apple might delay the launch because of high manufacturing costs, an issue that needs to be addressed before mass production can begin.