Apple has traditionally sourced display panels used in its devices from various other display makers. However, for the first time, the company is working on designing and producing its own displays.
The report from Bloomberg cites that Apple has been using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make a limited number of MicroLED screens for testing. The facility is located about 15-minutes away from the Apple Park campus and has about 300 engineers working on MicroLED displays.
Apple is investing heavily in MicroLED screens which is more difficult to produce than OLED displays. The company had “almost killed” the project a year ago but thanks to the process made by engineers and the advancement in technology, significant progress have been made since them. Codenamed “T159”, the project is being led by Lynn Youngs, who had worked on the touchscreen of the original iPhone and iPad. The process of building MicroLED screens is more complex than that of OLED displays so Apple still has a long way to go before the tech is ready for use in consumer devices.
Despite the huge amount of resources that Apple is pouring into the development of MicroLED displays, its unlikely to mass manufacture them. This is because Apple does not have any such facility and its California facility is too small for the task. In the end, Apple will end up outsourcing the production of MicroLED displays to one of its partners. However, until then, Apple will not share this new screen technology with them as it does not want its proprietary technology to be copied by others even before it is released.
The California facility is too small for mass-production, but the company wants to keep the proprietary technology away from its partners as long as possible, one of the people says. “We put a lot of money into the facility,” this person says. “It’s big enough to get through the engineering builds [and] lets us keep everything in-house during the development stages.”
Apple will first be using MicroLED displays on the Apple Watch, but even that at best is at least two years away. The company is already testing Apple Watch prototypes with MicroLED displays which are significantly brighter than OLED displays currently being used in the Apple Watch. They also provide engineers with a finer level of control over individual colors. Apple is unlikely to use MicroLED displays on the iPhone for at least the next 3-5 years due to their complex manufacturing process.
The news about Apple working on its own MicroLED display technology is unlikely to go down well with display manufacturers like Samsung, LG Display, and JDI. Apple is a big customer for these companies and losing it could spell trouble for some of them.
Given how Samsung dominates the OLED display scene and reserves the best panels for itself, it is not surprising that Apple is working on its own display tech so as to avoid a similar scenario in the future. Until MicroLED display tech is ready for a wide adoption though, except Apple to go all in on OLED panels for its iPhone lineup.