Apple’s transition to OLED displays for its products has been a remarkably slow one compared to many other smartphone manufacturers. For example, while Samsung has OLED displays in its first Galaxy S back in 2010, and Nokia was using them in feature phones as early as 2008, Apple didn’t introduce the screen technology in any of its devices until it debuted the Apple Watch in 2014, and it wasn’t until the 2017 iPhone X that OLED screens came to Apple’s smartphones.
However, with that first ground having been broken, it looks like Apple is preparing to even further embrace the screen technology, expanding it to not only its larger-screened iPads, which unlike their iPhone siblings still only use traditional LCDs, but also even its MacBook lineup.
According to a new report from Korean site ETnews, Apple is in talks with Samsung about using OLED displays in more of its devices, albeit for an unexpected reason.
According to the report, slowing iPhone sales have resulted in Apple owing a penalty to Samsung for failing to buy enough iPhone screens to fulfill its contractual obligations. As a result, Apple owes Samsung hundreds of millions of dollars, but instead of repaying in cash, Apple has suggested that it could make a higher commitment to OLED display orders for future products, such as “tablets and notebooks.”
Another Korean site, The Elec, reported similar news last month, revealing that Apple and Samsung were in talks specifically about supplying OLED displays for a 16-inch MacBook Pro — perhaps even one that could be coming later this year — and future iPad Pro models. While The Elec doesn’t have much of a track record when it comes to Apple rumours, and that earlier report didn’t offer many other details, today’s report from ETnews would seem to lock it down with a fairly plausible scenario.
What about microLED?
It’s worth mentioning that industry sources talking to ETnews have only suggested a more widespread move to OLED screens as a possible solution to satisfying Apple’s penalty to Samsung, so it’s unclear whether this will even happen, but it does make some sense, especially with iPhone sales slowing. However, Apple is also expected to go all-in OLED next year, which could also help to make up some of the shortfall in OLED screen orders, since Apple’s LCD-equipped iPhone XR has seen better sales than the premium OLED XS models, and it’s successor is expected to sport an OLED screen.
However, most screen technology rumours we’ve heard lately suggest that Apple is working on microLED technology, and we saw a preliminary version of that featured in Apple’s new 6K Pro display. Well-respected analyst Ming Chi Kuo has suggested that Apple is developing full microLED implementations for its iPad Pro and MacBook lineup that could see the light of day as soon as late 2020 or early 2021.
MicroLED is a newer technology that’s considered by many to be superior to OLED, since it doesn’t rely on organic compounds to produce light, yet still offers the same high contrast ratios and wide colour gamuts while also being brighter, immune to burn-in and ultimately cheaper to produce in the long run. It’s easy to see why these would be the way forward for Apple, but right now the technology is still somewhat nascent, and as a result, more expensive until it reaches more widespread use.
So even if Apple and Samsung do indeed come to an agreement for more OLED screens, this doesn’t rule out the company going to microLED in the future. One scenario is that Apple could start using OLED screens in some of its MacBooks and iPads while working to perfect microLED for the longer term.
OLED displays would of course not only offer better display quality, especially deeper contrast ratios, but would also reduce power consumption and allow for thinner devices — both areas in which Apple is always striving to improve. However, microLEDs offer most of the same benefits.
However, it also seems likely that microLED could initially be reserved for Apple’s highest-end MacBooks, like the longer-term 16.5-inch MacBook Pro that Apple is said to be working on for 2021. In this case, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Apple to start using OLED screens for some of its other mid-range models, while saving microLED for its top-of-the-line MacBook Pro and iPad Pro.