Apple Begins MicroLED Screen Development – Report

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Watch out Samsung, Sharp etc, as Apple reportedly begins development of MicroLED screens in the US

Bad news potentially for Asian component supply chain after a report said that Apple is developing next-generation MicroLED screens for use in its devices.

The report said that Apple has made a huge investment and the development is taking place in a secret manufacturing plant in California.

If the manfacturing of these MicroLED screens will take place in the US, this will please President Trump, who has long sought to persuade tech firms to bring their development and manufacturing back to America.

Screen development?

Apple is already known to make its own processors and indeed graphic processors, but it currently sources screens from a variety of Asian firms including Samsung Electronics, Japan Display, Sharp and LG Display Co.

Indeed, IDC reported last year that of the current generation of OLED screens for mobiles, 96 percent came from Samsung itself.

But now Apple is reportedly seeking to develop its own IP for screen displays and is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make small numbers of the screens for testing purposes, Bloomberg reported, quoting people familiar with the situation.

The report suggested that the Apple Watch would be first Apple product with MicroLED technology, which is notoriously tricky to manufacture.

But lets not forget either that last year Apple pledged a $1 billion (£776m) fund to promote advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States.

The secret MicroLED project is apparently codenamed T159, and is overseen by Lynn Youngs, who is in charge of iPhone and Apple Watch screen technology.

Apple has reportedly declined to comment on the report, as is usual.

MicroLED screens can make gadgets thinner, brighter and it does use less power compared with current OLED displays. But the report stated that this technology is unlikely to reach an iPhone for at least three to five years, due to production difficulties.

Imagination example

Apple’s move into screen technology could potentially have an impact on established players in this sector.

Last year for example British chip designer Imagination Technologies put itself up for sale after its chip licensing row with Apple threatened its survival.

It came after Imagination revealed in April 2017 that Apple planned to stop paying it royalties for the graphics technology used in iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and other mobile devices. That news crashed the shares in the UK company by at least 60 percent.

This was because Apple was Imagination’s largest customer, and accounted for around half its annual revenue. It is also an 8 percent shareholder, but had previously denied any intention to buy the British firm.

Then to add insult to injury, Apple rented an office not far from the headquarters of Imagination Technologies fuelling concerns it could poach key staff.

Quiz: How well do you know Apple?