Samsung Display blurs the line by revealing a plan to introduce microLED Displays for Smartwatches in 2024
On Wednesday, Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple is reportedly planning to start using its own Custom microLED Displays for Apple Watch and iPhones in the next few years." Bloomberg reported that Apple aims to begin by swapping out the display in the highest-end Apple Watches by the end of next year.
As expected, the news was met with deep skepticism in Korea, home to Samsung and LG displays that are Apple's current key display suppliers. Yi Choong-hoon, CEO and top analyst of Seoul-based display market tracker UBI Research, told The Korea Herald that "The yield management for microLEDs is still extremely immature and unstable. Even if Apple does come up with its own microLED screens, it will be hard to completely commercialize the technology in such a short time."
Yi Choong-hoon predicted little impact on the current suppliers, saying it would be difficult for Apple to end its existing ties so abruptly.
Last week, Ming-Chi predicted that Chinese display maker BOE, by 2024, would be the main supplier of LTPO displays and overtake Samsung as the largest display supplier for the iPhone.
While there was no news about microLED displays for Apple Watch, an industry source told The Korea Herald that "BOE is planning to invest about $400 million to build two factories in Vietnam. While the facilities are designed to mainly produce OLED panels, the report said, some production lines could be dedicated to microLED for Apple.
To blur the lines even further, a new report published today by ETNews states that Samsung Display started their microLED display development project for smart watches in late 2022. Samsung Display has set a goal for commercialization for 2024, exactly when the Apple Watch Ultra is to reportedly introduce its microLED display.
Samsung Display is focusing on micro LED as its next-generation product, and is targeting smart watches as its first product.
A microLED display refers to a panel using micrometer (㎛)-sized subminiature LEDs as pixels. It excels in brightness, contrast ratio, and color reproduction, and has exceptionally good visibility under sunlight. With low energy consumption, the micro LED display is expected to be a display technology that will become a 'game changer' in mobile devices such as smart watches and smartphones. Despite using LEDs as pixels increased the production cost and made manufacturing very difficult, Samsung Display seems to have found a solution that exceeded a certain level.
An industry insider familiar with the topic said, "Having too many challenges to overcome to make microLEDs go commercial, Samsung Display has set the goal to begin with a highly marketable product such as a smartwatch." It seems that a smartwatch display is more suitable to manufacture with microLED and expects a high probability of growth since the size of the smartwatch display is around 2 inches.
Once Samsung Display successfully completes its development within this year, it is expected to target the premium smartwatch market, such as Apple and Samsung Electronics. Apple is the No. 1 company in the global smartwatch market. For more on this read the full ETNews report.
Clearly microLED displays will first enter the market for smartwatches and both Apple and Samsung are likely to introduce them in the 2024-25 timeline. The only question is whether Apple will make a deal with Samsung Display for the Apple Watch Ultra or choose an alternative source. Wikipedia lists BOE, Sony and others on a short list of microLED display suppliers.
It should be fully expected that the Korean press will continue to promote Samsung's move into microLED displays and continually hint that Apple will be adopting their displays for the Apple Watch Ultra. On the flipside, Bloomberg and Ming-Chi Kuo are likely to ramp up the rumor mill with more details as we move into 2024.
So stay tuned, as the picture for the microLED display OEM for the Apple Watch Ultra 2024 remains a little blurry.
Update 8:00 A.M. PST: It didn't take time for the rumor mill to start cranking out yet more information to blur the line as to who will be producing the microLED display for Apple Watch Ultra in 2024-25. The tweet below is from display analyst Ross Young.
We published in our November Capex Report that LGD is building a small line for microLED backplanes for the Apple Watch. It doesn't start production till 2H'24. It is this small line that will likely assemble microLEDs from Apple for '25 launch. Apple won't do the full process.— Ross Young (@DSCCRoss) January 13, 2023