According to TrendForce, Apple is expected to adopt Micro LED for its consumer electronic products in the close future. The Apple Watch will likely be the first among Apple’s products to feature a Micro LED display, and the adoption is anticipated to occur in 2024. Then, during the period from 2026 to 2030, the application scope of Micro LED could expand to encompass AR headset displays, smartphone displays, automotive displays, etc.
The Apple Watch as a product line was launched in 2015 and has been in the market for more than eight years. The Apple Watch Ultra as the latest model was released near the end of 2022 and offers improvements to display specifications. Apple enlarged the display size to 1.93 inches and raised the display brightness level to 2,000 nits. These upgrades indicate that smartwatch brands continue to seek a larger and sharper display that can show texts clearly in an outdoor setting. TrendForce believes Apple will make a breakthrough for its smartwatch in 2024 by incorporating Micro LED. With this technology, the display of the Apple Watch could exceed 2 inches and achieve an even higher contrast level. Such improvements would satisfy the viewing needs of professionals and enthusiasts of various outdoor sporting activities.
Apple Watch Will Facilitate Entry of Micro LED Display into Market for Mainstream Consumer Electronics
TrendForce points out that Apple has always been careful about adopting a new technology, and its process for evaluating a new technology is very lengthy. On the other hand, once Apple has decided to use a particular technology, the company usually tries to apply it across different product lines. Take OLED display as an example. Besides being incorporated into the Apple Watch and the iPhone, OLED display is expected to be featured in the iPad models for 2024 and the MacBook models for the 2025~2026 period. With the penetration of OLED among Apple’s products serving as the prime case study, TrendForce believes Apple will begin the gradual introduction of Micro LED starting in 2024.
Whether Micro LED is incorporated into smartwatches, AR headsets, or smartphones, two major factors will determine the market competitiveness of this technology. The first factor involves lowering the costs of Micro LED chips. A notable solution to make the production of Micro LED chips much more economical is to enlarge the wafers that they are made from. Currently, the production lines for the mainstream Micro LED chips take in 6-inch wafers. Switching to 8-inch wafers will certainly result in a considerable cost reduction. The second factor is about flexibility. Micro LED has to work with different types of backplanes that contain glass, CMOS, etc. A reliable semiconductor manufacturing process is needed to serve as the basis for scaling up production. Such process is also critical for the provisioning of a total solution (i.e., from chip production to mass transfer, inspection, and repair).
Among suppliers for LED chips, ams OSRAM has formed the tightest collaborative relationship with Apple in the field of Micro LED at this moment because it has advantages in addressing the two aforementioned factors. In the future, ams OSRAM will very likely become Apple’s key partner in supplying the Micro LED components that are embedded in next-generation displays.
Micro LED Remains Apple’s First Choice in Selection of Future Display Technologies Due to Considerations Pertaining to Loss of Display Brightness and Impactful Product Innovations
Looking at the new kinds of display technologies that have emerged lately, Micro OLED and Micro LED are ones capable of meeting the demand for a high number of pixels per inch (PPI). However, Micro OLED cannot reach the higher level of brightness that Micro LED can achieve due to some inherent material-related limitations. Currently, there is a market rumor saying that Apple will be unveiling a headset device featuring a Micro OLED display this year. Nevertheless, in the development of AR headsets over the medium to long term, TrendForce believes building a headset with a completely transparent display will require an optical waveguide technology. However, incorporating optical waveguide will reduce the original brightness of a display by as much as 99%. Therefore, Micro LED with its huge brightness advantage can provide the sufficient leeway to compensate for this massive loss of brightness. If Apple wants to release an AR headset or a pair of AR glasses that features a completely transparent display in the future, then Micro LED is most likely its first choice for the display technology.
Turning to the smartphone market, most brands in the Android camp have made foldable OLED display a main design feature for their upcoming flagship models. However, Apple as the second largest smartphone brand has yet to enter the much-discussed market segment for foldable OLED models. TrendForce believes a possible reason as to why Apple is slow to enter this segment is its focus on Micro LED. In addition to rigid backplanes that have glass and CMOS, Micro LED is also highly suitable for flexible backplanes made of PI or other kinds of materials with similar attributes. And by adopting Micro LED, Apple may be able to make iPhone displays foldable, rollable, and even “stretchable” in the future. Hence, Micro LED has the potential to be the key technology that Apple will use to realize game-changing product innovations and thereby get further ahead of other brands in the market competition.
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