According to an Economic Daily News (Chinese-language) report, the 2020 Apple Watch may feature a MicroLED display. The Chinese language portal cited sources who were in the know about Apple’s Taiwan supply chain regarding this new development. This is backed by an earlier rumor shared by DigiTimes. That report indicated that Apple and TSMC would be collaborating on a MicroLED panel for the Apple Watch this year itself.
Bloomberg isn’t as optimistic about a 2019 timeframe for MicroLED Apple Watch displays, though. Bloomberg sources reported that Apple was secretly developing MicroLED technology near their Cupertino HQ.
However, only a small number of test screens were manufactured. Bloomberg doesn’t see volume production of the MicroLED Apple Watch displays until next year at the earliest. They believe that MicroLED tech will only arrive on iPhone 2-4 years afterward.
MicroLED Means Brighter and Thinner Apple Watch and iPhone Displays
So what is MicroLED and why is it so important for mobile displays? It’s a brand-new display technology that has advantages over both conventional LCD displays and OLED. As an LED-based technology, MicroLED does not have backlighting. This means that a MicroLED display can output pure blacks, just like OLED.
However, MicroLEDs have significantly higher luminance efficiency than OLEDs. This means that they can achieve much higher brightness. Current HDR displays top out at 1000 nits. On mobile, HDR tops out at even lower brightnesses. While 1000 nits is still bright, much brighter displays would allow for must greater contrast and more videos on your iPhone or iPad.
On Apple Watch, it would mean much better sunlight legibility. Another advantage of MicroLED technology is that individual LED modules are much thinner than either OLED or LCD.
This makes for two exciting possibilities: One is ultra-thin and flexible displays. We’re entering into the era of foldable devices. However, the OLED displays in devices like the Galaxy Fold are both thick and fragile. MicroLED would help create a class of ultra-thin foldables, no thicker than your current phones.
Another possibility is modular displays. Because MicroLED displays are made of groups of spaced-out LEDs, manufacturers could make MicroLED modules instead of large single displays.
Why does this matter? As displays get larger, manufacturing yields decrease exponentially driving costs up. This is why TVs with large displays are so much costlier, and why a 12.9 inch iPad Pro costs so much more than a smaller one.
Modular manufacturing would make it cheaper for display manufacturers to create larger displays. It would also make it easier for them to create smaller, watch-size modules. This could potentially lead to more affordable (or at least slightly cheaper) Apple Watches in the future.
We can’t say for sure if this year’s Apple Watch will use MicroLED technology or not. What we do know is that Apple is actively working on MicroLED. Sooner or later, we’ll see it in the Apple Watch and iPhone. If you’re interested in the future of Apple devices, check out this feature on leaked iPhone renders.