Apple Abandons Plans for MicroLED Apple Watch

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It’s hard to argue that 2024 hasn’t already been an eventful year for Apple. The Vision Pro came out in February, taking the world — or at least the US — by storm. We also saw a new M3 MacBook Air lineup, and there’s every reason to believe some exciting new iPad updates are just around the corner.

Sadly, though, it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses for the company, as it’s also faced a few setbacks. In fact, 2024 is shaping up to be one of Apple’s most challenging years in recent memory, as the company faces significant legal challenges from European and US antitrust regulators on one side and a pair of Apple Watch patent battles from left field that have left the future of Apple’s health monitoring technology in flux.

It’s also the year when Apple’s executives seem to be re-evaluating the company’s roadmap for some of its longer-term “moonshot” projects. Late last month, we heard the shocking news that the Apple Car had been unceremoniously canceled, putting an end to nearly ten years of rumors and speculation about Apple’s automotive ambitions. There are also reasons to believe Apple has abandoned its attempts to develop its own 5G modem chip and scaled back plans for its much-rumored AR glasses into a more basic pair of smart glasses.

Now it looks like Apple is also giving up on another of its longstanding ambitions: building microLED displays for the Apple Watch.

Rumors of Apple’s work on microLED technology have been swirling for at least seven years now. A 2017 report on Apple’s patents on the tech was followed by the revelation of a secret facility where microLED displays were being developed, and it wasn’t long before Apple’s supply chain began speculating that it would soon be coming to an Apple Watch.

Following a 2020 report that microLED wasn’t coming to the Apple Watch Series 6, things got very quiet until early last year when a report that Apple was developing the technology for the Apple Watch Ultra stoked the fires once again. Those continued throughout 2023, estimating that the new display tech would make an appearance on Apple’s premium wearable by 2026.

However, signs of the project’s demise appeared earlier this month when Apple reportedly canceled its primary supplier for the displays. Some folks, including analysts Ming-Chi Kuo and Ross Young, believed this marked the end of the initiative.

Nevertheless, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman pointedly disagreed with their conclusions, maintaining in a since-deleted tweet that Apple still had other suppliers lined up and adding, “I doubt it was canceled.”

Since then, Gurman seems to have received new information that’s changed his tune. In a report today at Bloomberg, he confirms that Apple is indeed “winding down” its long-running smartwatch display project, “putting an end to another pricey research and development initiative.”

In recent weeks, the company has ceased an in-house effort to create screens with microLED technology, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The displays, which featured brighter and more vibrant visuals, would have been added to a future version of the Apple Watch — before potentially going into other products.

Mark Gurman

Kuo and Young get their information from Apple’s Asian supply chain, while Gurman is believed to have sources inside Apple Park. While supply chain partners can only report what they’ve been told, Apple employees usually have a better pulse on the company’s plans. However, they’re not always told everything, either.

In this case, it seems the folks in the supply chain who were told the projects were canceled got it right. Perhaps the decision hadn’t been finalized within the walls of Apple Park, or maybe it hadn’t trickled down from the upper echelons, but Gurman must have had at least one source who believed Apple’s microLED ambitions were still alive.

While it’s arguably not as significant of an undertaking as the Apple Car, it appears the microLED display team will be joining the folks from Project Titan in being reassigned or laid off as Apple reorganizes things internally.

Gurman adds that the decision also came around the same time that Apple executives scrapped the Apple Car project, suggesting it’s part of a broader effort to find ways to run leaner and refocus its research and development priorities on things that are more in demand and will pay off in the short term, such as generative AI.

While Apple’s microLED plans may not be entirely dead, they’ve been put on the shelf, alongside Apple Glasses, until the level of technology catches up to Apple’s ambitions. For now, Gurman says, Apple believes the OLED is good enough, and while it’s still eyeing new processes that could make the technology viable, it’s not coming anytime soon.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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