Apple Recently Visited With Taiwanese Makers of Thinner and Brighter MicroLED and MiniLED Displays

Apple representatives attended the Touch Taiwan display industry convention in Taipei this week, holding private meetings with Taiwanese display makers AU Optronics and Epistar, according to the Economic Daily News.


The report claims Apple held the meetings to learn more about each company's development of next-generation display technologies MicroLED and MiniLED, suitable for future generations of iPhones and Apple Watches. As those names suggest, both technologies utilize arrays of very tiny LEDs.

In May, AU Optronics received a Best in Show award at the Display Week 2018 convention in Los Angeles for its multiple advanced display technologies, including the "world's highest resolution and full color TFT driven 8-inch micro LED display technology," according to the company's press release.

Apple is said to be most interested in MicroLED, as MiniLED is described as more of a transitionary technology that it may skip.

Apple has been exploring MicroLED displays since at least 2014, when it acquired MicroLED display maker LuxVue. In 2015, Apple reportedly opened a secretive laboratory in Taoyuan, Taiwan to research the technology, but has since shifted the efforts to Santa Clara, California, near its headquarters.

In addition to AU Optronics and Epistar, Apple has reportedly collaborated with its contract manufacturer TSMC to develop methods of mass producing MicroLED panels. Apple also reportedly held talks with another Taiwanese company PlayNitrite, which has developed its own MicroLED solution PixeLED.

MicroLED 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 are even thinner, much brighter, and more energy efficient than OLED panels.

Image Credit: TrendForce

MiniLED displays also have benefits such as improved brightness and contrast ratio, but they have a backlight like LCDs.

As with OLED, Apple's use of MicroLED would likely start small, with the Apple Watch, followed by the iPhone. A recent report said Apple may use MicroLED for its widely rumored augmented reality glasses as well.

All in all, the transition to MicroLED should lead to even better displays and longer battery life on future Apple devices.


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Apple Reportedly in Talks With PlayNitride Over Thinner and Brighter MicroLED Displays

Apple is in preliminary talks with Taiwan-based company PlayNitride over cooperation in the MicroLED market, according to DigiTimes via Micro-LED-Info.


While the report doesn't provide any further details about the potential partnership, PlayNitride has developed its own MicroLED displays called PixeLED that may be of interest to Apple for its future products. Samsung was also reportedly interested in the company back in early 2017, but no deal transpired.

PlayNitride is said to have received approval from the Taiwanese government to establish a multimillion-dollar facility at Hsinchu Science Park in northern Taiwan, where it will produce its MicroLED technologies.

Apple's interest in MicroLED displays was first reported in 2015, when it was discovered that the company opened a secretive laboratory in Taoyuan, Taiwan to research the display technology. Since then, Apple has reportedly downsized its team in Taiwan and shifted the efforts closer to its headquarters.

Last month, Bloomberg News reported that Apple has a secret facility in Santa Clara, California, near Cupertino, where it is allegedly designing and producing test samples of its own MicroLED displays. The displays are reportedly being manufactured by TSMC, which already produces A-series chips for iPhones.

MicroLED is widely considered to be Apple's next step after OLED, which it currently uses for the Apple Watch and iPhone X.

Image Credit: TrendForce

MicroLED 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 are even thinner, much brighter, and more energy efficient than OLED panels.

Apple's use of MicroLED would likely start small, with the Apple Watch, followed by iPhones and then iPads. A recent report said Apple may even use MicroLED for its widely rumored augmented reality glasses. However, the transition away from LCDs and OLEDs is widely believed to be at least a few years away.


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Apple Developing Its Own MicroLED Displays for Future Devices

Apple has a secret manufacturing facility in Santa Clara, California, where it is designing and producing test samples of its own displays, reports Bloomberg. The company is reportedly using MicroLED technology in an effort to replace Samsung's OLED displays in future devices.

Apple's MicroLED facility in Santa Clara (Bloomberg)
The technology giant is making a significant investment in the development of next-generation MicroLED screens, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. MicroLED screens use different light-emitting compounds than the current OLED displays and promise to make future gadgets slimmer, brighter and less power-hungry.
Apple's desire to expand its supply chain beyond Samsung has been extensively rumored, with Apple reportedly spending billions of dollars to help LG get its own OLED production up to speed and LG displays rumored to be making their way into this year's "iPhone X Plus" device.

Looking beyond OLED, many believe MicroLED will be the next display technology to appear in mobile devices, and Apple's interest in the technology was revealed in its acquisition of MicroLED firm LuxVue back in 2014. Apple has reportedly been working to first bring MicroLED to the Apple Watch, with some rumors pointing to that happening as soon as this year.

Bloomberg's report suggests, however, that it will likely be a few years until Apple's MicroLED displays will appear in shipping products, perhaps two years for the Apple Watch and three to five years for the iPhone. Apple will likely also outsource full-scale production of the displays.
The California facility is too small for mass-production, but the company wants to keep the proprietary technology away from its partners as long as possible, one of the people says. “We put a lot of money into the facility,” this person says. “It’s big enough to get through the engineering builds [and] lets us keep everything in-house during the development stages.”
Apple had reportedly been working on MicroLED display technology at an R&D center in Taiwan, but late last year the company was reported to have scaled back its efforts at that center. In light of today's news, it's possible Apple elected to concentrate its efforts at a facility closer to its headquarters.


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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.
Once micro-LED displays can be mass produced both reliably and affordably, the panels could be used in future Apple devices. Apple's use of micro-LED would likely begin in 2019 at the earliest, possibly starting with the Apple Watch, should it choose to proceed with the technology after trial production.

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.


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