Apple is working on its own next-gen display for its future range of iPhones and watches for the first time, according to a new report in Bloomberg that cited several employees familiar with the company’s hardware developments.
The technology giant is investing heavily in a new kind of display, dubbed MicroLED, and is producing early-stage prototypes at a secretive, 62,000-square-foot manufacturing facility located close to its headquarters in Santa Clara, California.
MicroLEDs don’t use backlight and are aimed at providing much better brightness and contrast than OLEDs, all while reducing the thickness and power consumption of the device.
However, the screen has not made it to the mass-market yet. It demands a complex manufacturing process that involves creating and calibrating individual sub-pixels or tiny LEDs to form millions of pixels of the display and finally attaching it to glass.
For this, Apple acquired a start-up called LuxVue in 2014 and followed up with gradual efforts to see how things pan out. The in-house manufacturing project, codenamed T159, moved slowly in the first few years but gained momentum towards the end of 2017 when the company managed to manufacture the first working prototype of a microLED for a future Apple Watch, which is also likely to be the first device to boast the new screen.
Apple can currently manufacture dozens of watch-sized microLEDs with the help of nearly 300 engineers at the secretive facility. Executives have already given the go-ahead to continue the development process. However, it would at least take them a couple more years to bring microLED equipped Apple Watches into the market. For iPhones, on the other hand, it could be even longer.
This means that the development of microLED prototypes is expected to continue at the Santa Clara facility, under the leadership of Lynn Young, a long-time Apple employee who spearheaded the work on the original iPhone and iPad touchscreen and is currently overseeing the technology behind iPhone and Apple Watch screens.
Once the technology is mature enough, Apple might make the big move and replace off-the-shelf OLED displays with new and much-improved microLEDs. However, it might still outsource manufacturing, just like it has done with its custom-designed processors.
This way, Apple could dominate by being the first technology giant to introduce microLEDs in the smartphone and smartwatch segment and offer consumers a better and much-improved level of quality than any other manufacturer.
Though a spokesperson from the company denied commenting on the plan of introducing a new display, the move could mark a big blow for LG Display, Sharp, Japan Display, and Samsung Electronics – all of which currently provide screen panels for Apple devices including the recent flagship, the iPhone X.