Decoding Apple’s Display Choice: Micro OLED Triumphs over Micro LED in Vision Pro

2023-06-08 Consumer Electronics / Display / Emerging Technologies Sponsored Content

Apple’s latest MR device, the “Vision Pro,” utilizes Micro OLED technology. This technology, along with Micro LED, is considered the next generation of display technology. So what are the differences between Micro OLED and Micro LED, and which one is better suited for AR/VR/MR devices?

According to market research firm TrendForce, ideal smart glasses must meet three major criteria. Firstly, to minimize the burden of wearing glasses, the display engine’s size should be below 1 inch. Secondly, in terms of content recognition requirements, the display brightness specification should reach at least 4,000 nits to ensure immunity to external factors such as weather or venue conditions. Lastly, the resolution should be at least 3,000 PPI to ensure clear projection and magnification.

Currently, Micro LED and Micro OLED are the primary technologies that meet these requirements. However, Micro LED is still in the early stages of AR technology development and faces several challenges that need to be overcome. Therefore, Micro OLED is currently the mainstream technology in the field.

Micro OLED technology enables full-color capabilities and has become the preferred choice for AR/VR manufacturers. According to TrendForce’s comparison of display engines, Micro LED outperforms Micro OLED in pixel size, luminous efficiency, and brightness. It appears to be the most suitable for AR glasses based on specifications. However, Micro LED is currently limited to a single green color, while Micro OLED can achieve full color. As a result, Micro OLED has a competitive advantage in AR/VR devices.

In terms of manufacturers, Sony remains the main supplier for Micro OLED technology. Due to their longer investment time and technological advantages, South Korean manufacturers Samsung and LG Display (LGD) are expected to join Apple’s MR supply chain in 2024.

Last year, reports suggested that Samsung initially considered Micro OLED a niche market and lagged behind its competitor, LGD. However, due to demands from Apple, Meta, and Samsung’s parent company, they began developing Micro OLED in the third quarter of last year. The latest news reveals that Samsung will acquire American Micro OLED display manufacturer eMagin for a price of $218 million.

Meanwhile, Meta will also collaborate with South Korean semiconductor giants SK hynix and LGD to develop Micro OLED panels for Meta XR (Extended Reality) devices. This partnership is expected to lead to more Micro OLED applications in AR/VR in the future.

Micro LED technology is still facing bottlenecks, but it has the potential to surpass Micro OLED in the medium to long term. TrendForce states that Micro LED AR glasses, due to the bottleneck in achieving full colorization, primarily display monochromatic information such as informational prompts, navigation, translation, and note-taking functions. Achieving higher resolutions requires chip miniaturization, reducing the size of Micro LED to 5 micrometers. In this situation, epitaxial processes are affected by wavelength uniformity issues, which impact yield. Additionally, smaller chips raise concerns about the external quantum efficiency (EQE) of red chips.

Overall, although Micro LED faces many challenges in AR glasses, it still outperforms Micro OLED in contrast, responsiveness, lifespan, power consumption, and other specifications. Considering the limitations of waveguide component technology in transparent AR glasses, which restricts optical efficiency from exceeding 1%, Micro LED remains an excellent choice in the medium to long term.

Therefore, if Apple wants to introduce Micro LED technology, it plans to start with the Apple Watch. However, the project’s launch has been delayed from 2024 to a later date, possibly beyond 2025, due to technological bottlenecks. In fact, over the past decade, Apple has invested significant funds in collaboration with ams Osram to develop Micro LED components. Once the technology is ready for mass production, Apple is likely to take charge of the critical “mass transfer” process, which may be carried out at its secret research and development center in Longtan, Taoyuan.

It’s worth noting that in addition to Micro LED, the Longtan research and development center is also where Apple collaborates with TSMC on Micro OLED technology for MR devices.

(Photo credit: Apple)