Apple to Continue Relying on Korean Suppliers for MicroLED Displays, Despite Move to Bring Production In House

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Apple will likely continue to rely on Korean-made displays, despite its “sweeping effort” to develop its own screens and components to give it more control over its product designs, says a new report from The Korea Herald.

A report by Korea’s Institute for Information & Communications Technology Promotion (IITP) says Apple is continuing to work on expanding its use of components developed and manufactured in-house, including the chips and displays used in its flagship iPhones. The Cupertino firm’s plans are part of its efforts to hold onto its dominant position in the smartphone market.

The report says Apple plans to transition its device displays from OLED to microLED panels as soon as the 2024 or 2025 Apple Watch Ultra. Other Apple devices will later adopt the microLED display, including iPhones, iPads, and even MacBooks.

The IITP believes it may take a while for Apple to complete the display transition to its in-house display technology. However, as microLED display production is challenging, with higher manufacturing costs, Apple is expected to continue to source at least 60% of its display components from Korean manufacturers, including LG Display and Samsung Display, over the next several years.

Apple’s outsourcing of display panel production to South Korean companies will save on mass production costs, says the report. Further, as Korean display manufacturers pick up Apple’s microLED production, they’ll have an advantage in catching up with their Chinese competitors.

Competition among chipmakers will likely increase with Apple introducing its own smartphone components, the report said.

Apple has long led innovation in the software sector, thanks to its macOS operating system. The device maker has also begun building its own chip ecosystem, designing and developing its own mobile and desktop processors.

“Apple’s push for chip independence could weaken the market dominance of fabless companies like Intel, Qualcomm, and Broadcom, and empower foundries such as TSMC,” the report said

Several sources – including Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Display Supply Chain Consultants CEO Ross Young – have said Apple will release an Apple Watch Ultra with a microLED display as soon as the end of 2024, although it could slide into 2025.

Even though Apple is working on a move to microLED, the Cupertino device maker is still in the process of transitioning some of its devices from LCD to OLED display tech. Apple first adopted OLED display technology in its products with the 2015 release of the first Apple Watch and then began gradually transitioning its iPhone lineup to OLED displays, starting with the 2017 iPhone X. The first iPad Pro and MacBook models sporting OLED display panels are said to be in the works for a 2024 model year release.

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