What are microLED displays, and why is Apple shifting to it?

How is microLED technology different from earlier screen display technology? When is the Cupertino-based company debuting the new technology? And in which all products?

The story so far:

Apple’s shift to microLED display technology is reportedly under process. Considered as the next big transition in display technology, microLEDs are self-illuminating diodes that have brighter and better colour reproduction than Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) display technology. Apple is currently working on this new display technology and plans to implement the same on future watch models starting 2024, and gradually to its other devices including iPhones and Macs. However, the complications and challenges with the new technology might delay Apple’s plans.

What is microLED display technology?

The basis of microLED technology are sapphires. A sapphire can shine on its own forever. A microLED screen is filled with such small but strong light. The picture in a microLED screen is generated by several individual light-emitting diodes.

Samsung, the pioneer in microLED technology explained in a video that a microLED is as small as cutting a centimetre of hair into 200 smaller pieces. Each of these microLEDs are semiconductors that receive electric signals. Once these microLEDs are gathered, they form a module. Several modules are then combined to form screens.

What are its benefits over other displays?

MicroLED displays are brighter, have better colour reproduction and provide better viewing angles. They make images appear as if they painted on top of the device’s glass and are quite the technological feat, according to a report by Bloomberg.

MicroLEDs have limitless scalability, as they are resolution-free, bezel-free, ratio-free, and even size-free.

The screen can be freely resized in any form for practical usage. In addition to being self-emissive, MicroLEDs also individually produce red, green, and blue colours without needing the same backlighting or colour filters as conventional displays, according to Samsung. The electronics company is currently the world’s most advanced manufacturer of displays, and has been producing its own version of microLED for TVs.

Samsung and LG Displays have evolved with brighter OLED panels over the last couple of years but microLED promises even greater luminance without panel degradation issues, The Verge reported.

Samsung has come up with MicroLED displays with up to 4,000 nits of peak brightness, roughly double of what the best OLED and LCD TVs are capable of right now.

What does the new technology mean for Apple?

MicroLED displays will be Apple’s first screens designed and developed in-house. The tech company currently sources screens from Samsung, LG, Japan Display Inc.,Sharp Corp. and BOE Technology Group Co.

Apple’s transition to the new displays could reduce its reliance on technology partners like Samsung and LG and replace Apple supplies with homegrown parts. The Cupertino-based company currently makes its own M1 and M2 chips. It has dropped Intel’s chips in its Mac computers to boost in-house designs and plans to do the same with key wireless components in its iPhones.

Now, by making the displays on its own, Apple could be in a better position to customise its devices and keep a stronger control on its supply chain, thus reducing delays in product availability.

When did Apple start working on this tech?

Apple started working on the tech in 2014 after purchasing startup LuxVue that pioneered microLED technology. The development of Apple’s microLED screens was led by veteran executive Lynn Youngs within Apple’s hardware engineering division, but the project was moved to the purview of Johny Srouji, Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies at Apple.

The project is now being led by Wei Chen, who runs Apple’s display technology group within Srouji’s Hardware Technologies division. The company has started testing microLED displays on its Watch Ultra.

What are the challenges with the new displays?

Apple had planned to start the transition to microLED screens as early as 2020. But the project languished due to high costs and technical challenges. Apple’s 2024 target could potentially be extended to 2025. The company could also offer a limited supply of the new devices to get the transition started.

When can we see it and in which products?

The screens are expected to debut with the Apple Watch Ultra in 2024, but Apple eventually plans to bring the technology to its entire lineup of iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch devices.

However, 9to5mac reported that it could be a decade before we see it in a Mac as the technology is still so nascent and complicated. These transitions can take a long time. The iPhone had OLED screens six years before the iPad was expected to get them, 9to5 pointed.