Apple is reportedly continuing its work on micro-LED displays, despite downsizing the Taiwan-based research & development team working on the technology.
The company’s R&D team in Taiwan has reportedly hit several bottlenecks in the mass transfer of micro-LED chips onto receiver substrates, according to supply chain sources cited by DigiTimes. Without mass transfer, Apple supply partners won’t be able to produce enough micro-LED panels to meet Apple’s demand.
But while it’s whittling down its Taiwan-based R&D group, there’s no indication that Apple is delaying or ending its micro-LED development. More likely, sources tell DigiTimes, is that Apple has moved the bulk of its micro-LED focus back to the U.S.
The Taiwan team was formed after Cupertino acquired U.S.-based micro-LED company LuxVue Technology in 2014. Downsizing that team, which included former LuxVue employees, could indicate that the initial trial phase of the research project has been completed, and the majority of the R&D work is now being moved stateside.
In addition, Apple is said to be partnering with its longtime partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to develop new hardware technology to alleviate Micro LED production and mass transfer bottlenecks.
Micro-LED is a nascent display technology that shares many of the benefits of OLED displays, including better color accuracy and contrast rates, faster response times and truer blacks.
On the other hand, micro-LED can be made into thinner, brighter and more energy-efficient displays than OLED. They have lower latency and better color saturation, and can even be deposited on flexible films — paving the way for a greater variety of curved displays.
Those are the benefits to consumers, but there’s also another reason why Apple may be aiming to switch: it would no longer have to rely on Samsung for the production of its displays. In fact, Nikkei reported in June that Apple was the “only company” in a position to roll-out the tech on a broad scale.
Apple’s micro-LED ambitions have been apparent since 2016, when a rumor suggested that the Apple Watch Series 2 might sport a micro-LED display. It also holds a number of patents related to the display technology.
Of course, that device and its successor (Apple Watch S3) retain the standard OLED displays of Apple’s wearable. Despite that, the Apple Watch seems poised to be the first Apple product to sport a micro-LED display — and it may very well be the first widespread consumer product ever to use the tech.
An Apple Watch with a micro-LED display could be made much thinner — which could be an important trait for a wristwork wearable.
As far as a timeline, Nikkei suggested earlier this year that Apple could produce and release a micro-LED Apple Watch as soon as 2018. Despite that, larger display forms like smartphones, tablets and monitors are still years down the road.