Apple is working with TSMC to develop ultra-thin and energy-efficient micro OLED displays for its upcoming augmented reality devices, Nikkei Asia is reporting. The R&D project is said to be in a trial production stage, focusing on displays that are smaller than one inch in size and “several years” away from commercialization. Apple is also said to be developing MicroLED displays at the same Apple lab in Taiwan.
According to Nikkei, the micro OLED displays in development are able to be so thin and compact because they’re built directly onto chip wafers, rather than glass like traditional OLED or LCD screens. News of the project follows reports that Apple has both VR and AR headsets in development. It could release its first VR headset (codenamed N301) as early as next year, while a more lightweight pair of AR glasses (codenamed N421) could follow in 2023. N301 reportedly features two 8K displays and a fabric exterior to cut down on its weight, while future headsets could eventually use this new panel technology to become slimmer and lighter.
As well as working on micro OLED, Nikkei reports that Apple is also working on MicroLED display technology at the same secretive lab in Taiwan. These self-emissive panels, which use miniature LEDs to remove the need for a traditional backlight, could eventually end up in devices like the Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBooks. Samsung already sells a MicroLED TV called The Wall, though the technology is a long way from being mainstream or affordable.
As a sidenote: micro OLED and MicroLED are distinct from Mini-LED, which uses an array of LEDs as a backlight behind a more traditional LCD display. Mini-LED technology is already available in TVs from the likes of TCL, and Apple is also reportedly working to bring it to devices like iPads and MacBooks in the not-too-distant future.
According to Nikkei, Apple’s R&D efforts are an attempt to reduce its reliance on other companies, like Samsung, to supply its displays. The iPhone 12’s OLED display is thought to be its second most expensive third-party component behind its Qualcomm 5G modem, for example. While Apple may end up using these technologies in its products, it could also just use its work to acquire technology patents, giving it more control over these next-gen technologies, Nikkei notes.
Apple isn’t the only company working to develop these display technologies. Sony Semiconductor Solutions has developed micro OLED displays for AR and VR headsets, while a partnership of BOE, Yunnan North OLiGHTEK Opto-Electronic Technology, and Kopin are also working together on the tech. Meanwhile, Samusung, BOE, and San’an Optoelectronics are also working to commercialize MicroLED displays.