Apple is reportedly taking a big step toward making its own displays, and it isn’t using the technology you may be most familiar with. According to a Bloomberg report, a secret facility in California close to Apple Park houses engineers developing microLED displays for Apple mobile devices. While Apple has been making its own chips for its mobile devices for a few years, this would be the first time the company has attempted to build its own displays.
MicroLED technology is still in its infancy, particularly in its application in consumer electronics. We last saw microLEDs show up in Samsung’s gigantic, 146-inch TV dubbed “The Wall,” which it debuted at CES in January. Making microLED displays is no easy task since the panels are made up of individual pixels that need to be individually calibrated. Each pixel is self-emitting as well, meaning microLED displays do not require individual backlights. But microLEDs produce displays that are incredibly bright, with deep blacks and high contrast ratios; they are also slimmer and don’t require as much power as their LCD counterparts.
Due to the complexity of microLED display development and application, Apple is reportedly still in the experimental phases when it comes to these panels. The company reportedly has about 300 engineers working on the initiative, codenamed “T159n,” which is being overseen by Lynn Youngs, who helped develop touchscreen display technology for the original iPhone and iPad. Apple also gleaned some intellectual property about microLED development when it acquired the screen-tech startup LuxVue back in 2014.
An Apple-made microLED display could first appear in an Apple Watch, but we are likely a few years away from that happening. The Apple Watch currently uses an OLED panel made by LG, and Apple gets all of its other display panels from manufacturers like LG and Samsung. An Apple Watch with a microLED display has the potential to be bolder and brighter than the current models and possibly have a better battery life considering the low-power nature of microLED technology. However, since microLED technology is so new, it’s unclear if it will be noticeably better in Apple’s wearables than current OLED tech.
If Apple successfully creates and implements its own microLED panels, it could hurt other screen manufacturers. However, Bloomberg’s report suggests that Apple’s California facility is not equipped to mass-produce these displays—rather, the space is only suitable for development and testing. Apple may develop the technology for its devices and then seed that tech to its partners, leaving the manufacturing complexities for them to figure out.