MicroLED Pits Big Apple vs. Tiny LED Chips

Article By : Junko Yoshida

The emergence of new display technology such as microLED will change not only the face of mobile devices but also the Who's Who of the display industry. The race is involving big guns like Google, Apple and Huawei.

MADISON, Wis. — Differentiating one smartphone from another is no easy feat. A display, however, is the one constant that smartphone vendors believe they can depend on to wow their customers. A new display technology with visible differences in a screen size, resolution, brightness and power consumption could scramble the market.

Apple’s anxiously awaited iPhone X, unveiled just this week, is the first iPhone to feature an OLED display — long after competitors Samsung and LG brought to market smartphones with OLED. Of course, unlike Samung and LG, Apple doesn’t have its own display technology. Yet. 

What if Apple were to develop a display technology of its own, featuring all the advantages of OLED but even better … like microLED? While the company has remained tight lipped — as is its custom — Apple has amassed an impressive portfolio of micoLED patents and there is speculation that it is using a Silicon Valley fab it bought from Maxim in 2015 to develop the technology. And Apple isn’t the only big name tech company working on microLED.

(Source: Yole Developpement)
Click here for larger image

(Source: Yole Développement)

Click here for larger image

MicroLED displays consist of an array of microscopic LEDs forming individual pixel elements. Unlike OLED, microLED uses conventional gallium-nitride LED technology. MicroLED promises range from high brightness, high dynamic range and a wide color gamut to fast refresh rates, wide viewing angles and lower power consumption. MicroLED proponents claim their total brightness can be 30 times that of OLED products while offering higher efficiency in lux per watt.

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3

Whether Apple will trigger the shift to microLED has long been a topic of intense discussion among Apple watchers and display technology experts, not to mention driven speculation that Apple would soon use microLED in Apple Watch. (Much to the chagrin of microLED proponents, the Apple Watch Series 3, unveiled this week, features an OLED display).

EE Times this week talked to Eric Virey, senior market and technology analyst at Yole Développement. We asked him to break it all down, and tell us about where he thinks the display market is with this mythical microLED technology. 

Why do we care?
Fully aware of all the hype that has gone into the new display technology, Virey understands what we all want to know: “Does microLED even exist? Why do we care?”

Yole does not expect microLED to arrive in the wearable device market, such as Apple Watch, until the end of 2019. Setting the timeline aside, though, Virey believes the electronics industry should pay even more attention today, because microLED’s emergence is going to change not only the face of mobile devices but also the Who’s Who of the display industry.

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