Apple, it appears, is slowly working to lower its dependence on suppliers for the relevant parts on their devices. The company is already enhancing its capabilities in the semiconductor space, and now, a Bloomberg report claims that the iPhone maker is secretly testing its own displays.
“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,” says Bloomberg.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is designing and producing test samples of the MicroLED displays at its secret manufacturing facility in Santa Clara, California. Further, the report claims that the company aims to replace Samsung’s OLED displays with MicroLED technology. Use of the MicroLED technology would ensure that the future devices are slimmer, brighter and use less power.
The displays based on the MicroLED technology are more complex to produce than the OLED displays, Bloomberg notes, adding that Apple almost killed the project a year or so ago. Currently, the company is working on further improving the technology. The project – code-named T159 – is being headed by Lynn Youngs – an Apple veteran who worked on the displays for the iPhone and iPad.
Apple’s secret facility, where it is producing the MicroLED displays, includes about 300 engineers working on the screen. The 62,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is very near to the Apple Park campus in Cupertino. According to Bloomberg, the facility even has a special area for the intricate process of “growing” LEDs.
Apple’s interest in this next-gen MicroLED technology is not new. In 2014, the iPhone maker acquired MicroLED firm LuxVue. Separately, there were reports that the company is using its R&D center in Taiwan for the MicroLED display technology. However, reports late last year, claimed that the company scaled back its efforts in Taiwan. The decision to scale back efforts in Taiwan makes sense now as the company wanted to move the development process closer to its headquarters.
Reports are that Apple will first bring the MicroLED technology to the Apple Watch as soon as this year. Bloomberg, however, notes that it will take Apple a few years to finally ship the products with the MicroLED technology – about two years for the Apple Watch and three to five years for the iPhone.
Apple’s interest in making its own display technology does not come as a surprise, especially considering that Samsung reportedly made over $20 billion by selling OLED displays for the iPhone X. Meanwhile, the Korean firm is also working on the MicroLED technology itself, and plans to launch a TV set based on the same this summer.
Producing its own display is the latest effort from Apple to bring more components in-house. In 2017, Dialog Semiconductor, which is also an Apple supplier, admitted that the iPhone maker could make its own power chips.
Previously, there have been reports on Apple’s intentions to expand its supply sources beyond Samsung. The company has reportedly invested billions in LG to help it boost its OLED production. The displays from LG are expected to feature in this year’s “iPhone X Plus” device. There are chances that after Apple finalizes the design and other things, it could even outsource the production of the MicroLED displays.
However, Apple’s effort could hurt major display suppliers like Sharp, Samsung, Japan Display LG Display and Universal Display (developer of OLED technology). After the Bloomberg report, shares of several Apple suppliers dropped sharply in Asia Monday morning. Samsung dropped by about 1.5%, Sharp over 3% while Japan Display dropped as much as 4.4%.
Currently, the smartphone makers use off-the-shelf display technology, but they customize the screens to meet their specifications. For instance, Apple calibrates iPhone screens to ensure color accuracy. Apple Watch uses screens from LG Display, while iPhone X uses Samsung OLED technology.
Being an early mover in the MicroLED display tech would help the iPhone maker get an edge in the maturing smartphone market. Speaking to Bloomberg, Ray Soneira, who runs the screen tester DisplayMate Technologies, notes that designing their own screens is a “golden opportunity” for Apple. “Everyone can buy an OLED or LCD screen,” he says. “But Apple could own MicroLED.”
Hopefully, we may hear more about the technology at the Apple event later this month. However, it is very unlikely the company would talk about the next-gen display technology at the event, which is focused on education. Apple’s invitation for the event says the event will be to “hear creative new ideas for teachers and students.” The event is scheduled for March 27 at a Chicago high school.