Watch Effect: Apple's first OLED display product could hint at more to come

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited June 2015
OLED displays, which can offer power savings advantages over their LCD counterparts, have been rumored to arrive in Apple products for years. But with the launch of the Apple Watch, the company has finally opted to embrace OLED technology, which could pave the way for future devices, like the iPhone, to make the switch.




Editor's note: Apple frequently introduces new technologies and features in a singular new product, then gradually brings them to other devices in its ecosystem, making for a more coherent user experience. Our Watch Effect series examines how the Apple Watch's own innovations might make their way to the iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
The biggest advantage of OLED displays is the potential for longer battery life, particularly with a dark user interface like on the Apple Watch.
There has been no solid indication that Apple has any plans to make future iPhones with OLED displays, but the inclusion of OLED in the Apple Watch makes the possibility stronger than ever.

Previously, Apple's interest in organic light-emitting diode technology was just rumor fodder. But now, post-Apple Watch, its appearance within other devices made by the company would not come as a huge surprise.

Why would Apple make the switch from its current, highly praised LCD panels to OLED displays? The main reason would likely be battery savings.

With OLED technology, each individual pixel is self-lit. This stands in contrast to LCD, which employs a battery draining backlight to illuminate the screen.

With an OLED screen, "black" (unused) pixels are not lit, and therefore do not require as much power as illuminated pixels. With an LCD screen, the entire panel is backlit -- even black pixels -- which can reduce battery life, particularly if the backlight is set to a brighter option.




This explains why Apple chose to go with a dark user interface theme with the Apple Watch. The watch faces feature black backgrounds, the app home screen has no wallpaper option, and even the Apple Watch glances are dark.

In contrast to the bright and colorful iOS, Apple's Watch OS is utilitarian.

For an iPhone, iPad or otherwise to maximize battery savings with an OLED panel, Apple would need to offer a "dark mode" UI in iOS. Conveniently, Apple already introduced a dark menu bar and dock in OS X Yosemite last year, so the idea of a new-look option for iOS would not be unprecedented.

OLED could have a number of other benefits beyond battery life as well. Another likely reason that Apple chose OLED over LCD for the Apple Watch is to save space: Because there is no need for a backlight, the OLED panel can be thinner, allowing a device to become smaller, or to pack in a larger battery.

As Apple constantly strives to make its devices thinner, lighter, and with the largest possible integrated batteries, it's again easy to see the advantages an OLED screen might offer in an iPhone or iPad.

The use of OLED in the Apple Watch has yet another practical application: The display does flex ever so slightly, allowing for the device to sense pressure for Force Touch input. This enables the device to interpret when a user is pressing harder on the screen for the new input method.




This year's iPhone and iPad are both expected to gain Force Touch input, though it's expected to detect pressure in a different manner than the Apple Watch. Specifically, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has claimed that Force Touch will appear on the next iPhone by using capacitive technology with LCD, placing the sensor under the in-cell touch panel's backlight.
OLED displays have a number of disadvantages, particularly cost, which have kept them out of devices like Apple's iPhone.
While OLED isn't expected to arrive in the iPhone, iPad, or any other Apple device beyond the Apple Watch in the near future, it still seems likely that officials at the company are weighing the pros and cons of the technology for future devices beyond 2015.

But one of the key reasons that Apple likely has not embraced OLED panels in the iPhone as of yet is price. OLED technology is newer and not as widely produced as LCD panels, which makes OLED displays a costlier component.

There's also the question of how much of an advantage OLED would offer over Apple's current -- and nearly universally commended for their quality --?LCD displays with in-plane switching. Without a darker iOS UI, battery savings with an OLED panel may not be fully realized, lessening the justification for ditching LCD.

And the LCD panels and their accompanying backlights used by Apple continue to get thinner every year, making the advantages of an OLED display even less pronounced.

Finally, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook himself has publicly panned OLED display panels, saying in an interview in 2013 that they tend to feature "awful" color saturation, and saying that consumers should "really think twice before you depend on the color from an OLED display."

Of course, Cook's concerns about OLED were short-lived, as just a year and a half after he made those comments, the Apple Watch with OLED display was officially unveiled. Apple prefers to downplay the specifications of its device, however, and its website does not mention OLED, instead referring to the Apple Watch screen as a high-resolution Retina display.

Whether or not OLED comes to other Apple devices beyond the wearable Apple Watch, rumors about it are unlikely to die, especially now that the company has dipped its toes in the waters of OLED technology. Will Apple take the plunge?
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    ecatsecats Posts: 272member
    Tim's comments aren't wrong, it's just a matter of OLED tech catching up to the colour accuracy of LCD.
  • Reply 2 of 38
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 20,323member

    Bring it on. I am quite impressed with the display. 

  • Reply 3 of 38
    retrogustoretrogusto Posts: 949member
    It seems like OLED screens will always be worse in direct sunlight, just because of the way they work, which to me is a major consideration, and the most important advantage of the screens currently used in iPhones. Am I wrong about this? I would definitely not be willing to trade off worse visibility for a thinner phone or even for longer battery life. In the watch, it seems like they are already at the limits in terms of thinness and battery life (in the sense that it wouldn't really be practical to have it any thicker, or with shorter battery life), so I can see why this trade-off might make more sense. Also, color accuracy is more important in a phone/camera than in a watch, and I know they felt strongly about making the screen blend in to the borders in the watch (see the Jony Ive profile in The New Yorker from last February for more on this).
  • Reply 4 of 38
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 20,323member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Retrogusto View Post



    It seems like OLED screens will always be worse in direct sunlight, just because of the way they work, which to me is a major consideration, and the most important advantage of the screens currently used in iPhones. Am I wrong about this? 

    In my experience, it's not all that worse in direct sunlight. I have to use my palm to shade the screen for both.

  • Reply 5 of 38
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Retrogusto View Post



    Also, color accuracy is more important in a phone/camera than in a watch, and I know they felt strongly about making the screen blend in to the borders in the watch (see the Jony Ive profile in The New Yorker from last February for more on this).

    He also pointed out in that interview that the iPhone looks "old" because of the way the screen fails to blend in with the borders. Sharp introduced edgeless display on their Aquos Crystal, so that might be one solution Apple might pursue, but that would result in a redesign of their iconic look for the iPhone. And I agree, for the present there may be no way to milk more power out of the existing battery technology, so the obvious way to increase it would be to go with a dark UI, and lower power consuming display -- which is arguably one of the greatest of the commonly used power consuming aspects of the device. 

  • Reply 6 of 38
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,991member



    This is part of the reason I stick with Apple products. While other manufacturers immediately jump on the latest technology bandwagon solely for the purpose of touting specs Apple tends to study the matter for a while before adopting. There’s always a downside to the latest, greatest mentality. For OLED it was/is apparently the color issue. Apple waits for the tech to evolve sufficiently before it puts it in the products. That means the tech usually works as advertised when the product is released. I’d rather wait than have the latest, greatest not live up to expectations and the hype. I chuckle at the techie wannabes who babble on about CPUs, AMOLED, sensors, memory, with no appreciation as to how it will work or benefit the user. 

  • Reply 7 of 38
    19831983 Posts: 1,225member
    Apart from colour accuracy there's also, from what I understand a longevity issue with OLEDs too, particularly the blue pixel part of the display. Still, both issues are probably on the verge of being sorted. For that reason Apple might finally switch to OLED with next years iPhone 7.
  • Reply 8 of 38

    OLED vs LED.  4k.

     

    I'd wondered for years about this.

     

    But having seen an LG OLED 4k display vs a Panasonic 4k display?

     

    No competition.  OLED blows it out the water.  Inky Blacks.  Beautiful colour.

     

    Price.  There's the rub.

     

    £3750 for the 4k LG OLED.  £1000 for the Panasonic 4k.

     

    OLED.  Jaw dropping picture.  Beautiful.

     

    Lemon Bon Bon.

  • Reply 9 of 38
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Google showed off a dark theme for Android M. I want that for iOS. We got it with Yosemite so I have to believe Apple is at least thinking about it. Maybe we'll get it once they go OLED for iPhones. Here's what Jony Ive said about the Watch and iPhone displays in that New Yorker interview:

    [QUOTE]Under normal circumstances, the screen will then show one of nine watch faces, each customizable. One will show the time alongside a brightly lit flower, butterfly, or jellyfish; these will be in motion, against a black background. This imagery had dominated the launch, and Ive now explained his enthusiasm for it. He picked up his iPhone 6 and pressed the home button. “The whole of the display comes on,” he said. “That, to me, feels very, very old.” (The iPhone 6 reached stores two weeks later.) He went on to explain that an Apple Watch uses a new display technology whose blacks are blacker than those in an iPhone’s L.E.D. display. This makes it easier to mask the point where, beneath a glass surface, a display ends and its frame begins. An Apple Watch jellyfish swims in deep space, and becomes, Ive said, as much an attribute of the watch as an image. On a current iPhone screen, a jellyfish would be pinned against dark gray, and framed in black, and, Ive said, have “much less magic.”[/QUOTE]

    Edit: I see others already beat me to this Ive comment.
  • Reply 10 of 38
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    OLED vs LED.  4k.

    I'd wondered for years about this.

    But having seen an LG OLED 4k display vs a Panasonic 4k display?

    No competition.  OLED blows it out the water.  Inky Blacks.  Beautiful colour.

    Price.  There's the rub.

    £3750 for the 4k LG OLED.  £1000 for the Panasonic 4k.

    OLED.  Jaw dropping picture.  Beautiful.

    Lemon Bon Bon.

    No doubt about it the Apple Watch display is jaw droppingly beautiful. Apple is making this work for the Watch; they'll figure it out for iPhone - certainly if Jony has anything to say about it. Oh and Apple while you're at it, how about brining complications to the lock screen?
  • Reply 11 of 38
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by 1983 View Post



    Apart from colour accuracy there's also, from what I understand a longevity issue with OLEDs too, particularly the blue pixel part of the display. Still, both issues are probably on the verge of being sorted. For that reason Apple might finally switch to OLED with next years iPhone 7.



    This is a load of nonsense based on a test done with the very first consumer OLED device, a near experimental TV released by Sony in around 2007.  There have been 7 - 8 generations worth of development in OLEDs since this single test was done.  My phone is near 5 years old now and there has been no degradation in the Blue in its OLED display.

     

    Here it is next to my MBPR.  The blue is still fine after 5 years of daily use:

     

  • Reply 12 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

     



    This is a load of nonsense based on a test done with the very first consumer OLED device, a near experimental TV released by Sony in around 2007.  There have been 7 - 8 generations worth of development in OLEDs since this single test was done.  My phone is near 5 years old now and there has been no degradation in the Blue in its OLED display.

     

    Here it is next to my MBPR.  The blue is still fine after 5 years of daily use:

     


    I have designed a few OLED displays into products, some had 1/2 life of 20,000 hours. Thats only two years if the display is on all the time. Your cell phone display may only be on for say 60 minutes per day, so half-life of 20,000 hours would be no issue.

    When used say in macbook it would be a problem for most. My macbook retina screen is on 50 hours a week minimum, my tv, probably 15

  • Reply 13 of 38
    Have you see the color scheme of iOS?
    It's bright and colorful.
    Choosing oled will just drain the battery extremely fast. In fact, that's why Apple did it:
    It looks shape and dynamic. And make any AMOLED device failed to copy it.
    The most they could do is less bright.

    In fact, Apple Watch use OLED because they can reduce the power by making all background with black.
    Try doing that with iOS? You know even the background color of AI is white, right?
    It's not like Apple could ask the world to use black as background color tomorrow.

    If you want iOS screen blend with the border, tell Apple to stop offering white front panel.
    Apple Watch just solve it like any black iPhone did since the first one.
  • Reply 14 of 38
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,369member
    Quote:


    Apple frequently introduces new technologies and features in a singular new product, then gradually brings them to other devices in its ecosystem, making for a more coherent user experience. 


    It is not possible for Apple to launch a new technology on multiple products unless they are all launched on the same day.  Therefore this statement is inherently true.

     

    EVERY company does this.  Something has to be first.  Economies of scale dictate that a good technology will eventually get rolled out to every product to which it applies.

     

    OLED might come to the iPhone.  It's possible that some other technology may replace OLED before it gets rolled out to the iPhone.  However, it's all speculation.  It'll happen... or it won't.

  • Reply 15 of 38
    commoduscommodus Posts: 270member

    Like others have hinted, OLED is finally catching up.  Look at the Galaxy S6: that OLED is bright, vivid and (if you use a neutral video setting) still pretty color-accurate.  The battery life is sub-par, but that's more a virtue of Samsung cramming a Quad HD display into a 5.1-inch phone while lowering the battery capacity.  A 1080p screen using tech like that would probably be much gentler on battery life.

     

    With that said, I don't know if Apple needs to do OLED this time around.  If it's needed for Force Touch, maybe, but display changes are uncharacteristic of Apple in "iPhone s" generations.

  • Reply 16 of 38
    aeleggaelegg Posts: 99member

    This is completely off topic, and a little absurd.

     

    Leaving aside all logic, imagine a Gold digital crown could be ordered installed on an Aluminum or Stainless Steel model.

     

    One would have a little touch of bling, but not $10,000 worth.

     

    Nahhh.  Bad idea I guess.

     

    It just popped into my head while looking at the watch picture in this article.

     

    "What if someone just wanted a gold crown......"

  • Reply 17 of 38
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Right_said_fred View Post

     

    I have designed a few OLED displays into products, some had 1/2 life of 20,000 hours. Thats only two years if the display is on all the time. Your cell phone display may only be on for say 60 minutes per day, so half-life of 20,000 hours would be no issue.

    When used say in macbook it would be a problem for most. My macbook retina screen is on 50 hours a week minimum, my tv, probably 15




    Yeah, sure.

     

    Quote:


     As for OLED lifespan, during a UHD 4K panel at last month’s CES week in NYC, LG’s Director of New Product Development Tim Alessi told the audience LG’s OLED lifespan is the same as plasma which puts it between 50,000 and 100,000 hours. According to a 2012 AC Nielsen survey, Americans over the age of 2 years old, spend 34 hours a week watching television. Using the 50,000 hour figure this LG OLED UHD 4K TV’s panel lifespan is over 28 years.


    http://hdguru.com/lgs-ultra-high-definition-4k-oled-tv-price-leaked/

  • Reply 18 of 38

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Right_said_fred View Post

     

    I have designed a few OLED displays into products, some had 1/2 life of 20,000 hours. Thats only two years if the display is on all the time. Your cell phone display may only be on for say 60 minutes per day, so half-life of 20,000 hours would be no issue.

    When used say in macbook it would be a problem for most. My macbook retina screen is on 50 hours a week minimum, my tv, probably 15


     

    Quote:




    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

     



    Yeah, sure.

     

    http://hdguru.com/lgs-ultra-high-definition-4k-oled-tv-price-leaked/


    yeah sure what? are you disagreeing with the lifetime, or what?

  • Reply 19 of 38
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,168member
    First of all, it is much more efficient to let light go through on a LCD panel than to make a pixel black. In order to have a black pixel, the LCD must diffuse (darken) the pixel and that is consuming a lot more energy than to let the light shine through.

    With OLED, it's the opposite. The black pixel needs no electricity but it is NOT energy efficient if you have a screen full of webpages or documents as they will consume MUCH more energy than LCD.

    That's why Apple has the iOS brightly colored - it's more energy efficient that way. You don't really have much choice because the entire panel of LCD light is on and it takes more energy to darken pixels.

    When you spend most of the time surfing the web or reading docs or apps with lots of bright colors, then LCD makes more sense overall.

    OLED makes sense for an Apple watch but not for iPhone. The Apple watch doesn't need to fill the screen with bright colors and it was never intended to be on for prolonged period of time.
  • Reply 20 of 38
    konqerrorkonqerror Posts: 685member
    Quote:



    Originally Posted by netrox View Post



    First of all, it is much more efficient to let light go through on a LCD panel than to make a pixel black. In order to have a black pixel, the LCD must diffuse (darken) the pixel and that is consuming a lot more energy than to let the light shine through.

     

    Not for Apple products. IPS is normally black.

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