Apple developing MicroLED tech at secret facility, likely to debut in Apple Watch

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited March 19
Apple is reportedly developing MicroLED screen technology at a secret engineering and manufacturing facility located 15 minutes from Apple Park, with the tech expected to debut in future devices as a potential replacement for OLED panels currently supplied by Samsung.


Apple's reported display facility in Santa Clara, Calif. | Source: Bloomberg


Located on a nondescript road minutes from Apple Park, the 62,000-square-foot facility houses about 300 engineers who are working on the next generation display technology as part of a project dubbed T159, Bloomberg reports.

The plant is sufficient enough for small scale manufacturing operations, allowing Apple to keep MicroLED engineering and testing in house through the development process, a source told the publication. The person added that the company invested "a lot of money" on the facility and supporting assets in efforts to retain proprietary technology as long as possible prior to mass manufacture.

Apple has a long history of developing components and engineering solutions in-house before seeding that information to manufacturing partners in Asia.

The company's A-series processors that power iPhone and iPad, as well as the S-series chips in Apple Watch, matured in Apple labs prior to being farmed out for production by TSMC and other fabricators. A MicroLED screen facility, however, is a first for Apple. The company hopes to keep the technology out of the wild for as long as possible, a strategy that should afford it a significant leg up on competitors, the report suggests.

Apple's plant produced its first Apple Watch-sized screen in late 2017, sources said, and is now capable of pumping out "a handful" of similar displays at a time.

Currently, Apple uses Samsung technology in the OLED panel for iPhone X, and LG technology for Apple Watch. T159 represents Apple's first attempt at owning the display stack top to bottom.

The new display technology, which is much more complex than that used to manufacture modern OLED panels, will allow devices to not only be brighter and less power-hungry, but slimmer as well. With more latitude afforded by an internally designed engineering process, Apple will also be able to fine tune display characteristics like color accuracy.

MicroLED is still years from making its way to consumers, the report said. When, or perhaps more accurately if, Apple continues down the MicroLED path, the panels will likely appear in Apple Watch before moving to iPhone. There is a precedent for this, as we saw with the OLED displays that graced Apple's wearable years prior to their integration in iPhone X.

Apple first showed interest in MicroLED with its purchase of segment specialist LuxVue in 2014. Rumors following the acquisition suggested MicroLED would arrive in a 2017 Apple Watch model, while later rumblings pushed back that timeline to 2018.

Today's report seemingly confirms rumors from late last year claiming Apple downsized its Taiwan-based display research and development project as it shifted focus to operations in the U.S.

In the meantime, Apple looks to be doubling-down on their investment in OLED, with at least two new OLED iPhone models rumored for introduction later this year. Alongside Samsung's OLED contributions, reports suggest LG will handle panel supply for a 6.5-inch "iPhone X Plus" after receiving a $2.5 billion shot in the arm from Apple.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 66
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,263member
    I wonder what happened to all the hype surrounding quantum dot displays? Not practical?
    tallest skil
  • Reply 2 of 66
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,540member
    Can't innovate anymore, my ass - P.S. 2013



    racerhomie3watto_cobrabshank
  • Reply 3 of 66
    It will be awesome.
    watto_cobrapatchythepirate
  • Reply 4 of 66
    Not so secret any longer. I wonder if Apple will beef up security now that the 'cat is out of the bag'. If there is possibly something unique about their work then that alone will attract interest from competitors.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 66
    Bring it on home! Design, component manufacuture, assembly - the whole works. The pleasant and secure shape of things to come!
    edited March 19 longpathretrogustopatchythepirate
  • Reply 6 of 66
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,337member
    Bring it on home! Design, component manufacuture, assembly - the whole works. The pleasant and secure shape of things to come!
    There are so many reasons why it's just not feasible for something whose minerals can't be completely mined in the states all the way to needing staff in the 6 digits with 10s of thousands of parallel assembly lines.

    For even just microLED to be final manufacturing in the US it would have to be completely automated, but even then you'd still need to send all the displays to China for assembly.

    The only reason the Mac Pro could do this was because it was low volume, and even then it was just final assembly and still delayed (the latter aspect may or may not have been because they assembled in the US).

    During the most recent Xmas quarter, Apple sold slightly fewer than 80 million iPhones, about 900,000 a day. Obligingly, a day has 86,400 seconds, so we round up to 90,000 to get a production yield of ten iPhones per second.

    But producing a phone isn’t instantaneous, it isn’t like the click of the shutter in a high-speed camera. Let’s assume that it takes about 15 minutes (rounded up to 1,000 seconds) to assemble a single iPhone. How many parallel production pipes need to accumulate ten phones a second? 1,000 divided by 1/10 equals…10,000! Ten thousand parallel pipes in order to output ten phones per second.

    We can juggle the numbers, but it’s still difficult to comprehend the scale and complexity of the iPhone production machine, to build a reliable mental representation.
    PS: As an American I hope I'm dead wrong and that Apple can bring "the whole works" to the US for all their products from where they source minerals, who designs and build their machines that make their devices, etc., but I really don't see that ever happening.
  • Reply 7 of 66
    adm1adm1 Posts: 808member
    it's the natural progression of things, if Apple can't rely on partners or outsourcing to push the boundaries of current tech then they have to do it themselves. If they ever branch into fabrication in a big way they'll be beyond unstoppable.
    longpath
  • Reply 8 of 66
    asciiascii Posts: 5,628member
    They might not even have to bring it to the phone, just bringing it to the watch might be enough to make Samsung drop their phone screen prices.
    airnerdlongpathwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 66
    Crossing my fingers for Apple with this. But big improvements in Siri woudl help Watch as well.
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 10 of 66
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 384member
    I wonder what happened to all the hype surrounding quantum dot displays? Not practical?
    It’s still being worked on. 
    https://m.phys.org/news/2018-03-quantum-dot-technology-superacid-treatment.html
    wonkothesaneSpamSandwich
  • Reply 11 of 66
    GG1GG1 Posts: 167member
    adm1 said:
    it's the natural progression of things, if Apple can't rely on partners or outsourcing to push the boundaries of current tech then they have to do it themselves. If they ever branch into fabrication in a big way they'll be beyond unstoppable.
    Weren't the Apple-2 computers manufactured somewhere in Silicon Valley?

    The peaks and valleys of yearly demand for consumer electronics make it very tough for a company to run their own manufacturing plant. That is why manufacturing is typically handled by a contract manufacturer (CM), who builds for several (or many) companies. The CM can manage a more stable workforce over the year with multiple products from multiple companies. Of course, that is with a human workforce.

    If Apple can achieve a true "lights out" factory (no line workers), then they can justify their own manufacturing plant virtually anywhere.

    As Soli said above:

    "For even just microLED to be final manufacturing in the US it would have to be completely automated..."
  • Reply 12 of 66
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,256member
    Lot's of speculation here about Apple bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.
    The question is though:   WHY would they want to do that?

    Will it produce a better product?
    Will it produce a cheaper product?

    One thing about Apple:  The only ideology they believe is that making great products is the start and foundation of everything they do.   For the rest, the tend to be very pragmatic:  Whatever will provide them with that Great Product is what they will do and where they will go...
  • Reply 13 of 66
    airnerdairnerd Posts: 514member
    Not so secret any longer. I wonder if Apple will beef up security now that the 'cat is out of the bag'. If there is possibly something unique about their work then that alone will attract interest from competitors.

    I always assumed that before an article like this goes out that a company like Apple either knows about it through the grapevine or was contacted directly by the author.  if I was researching this I'd at least reach out and see if there is anything they would like to add, or possibly any reason I really shouldn't publish it at this time.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 14 of 66
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 459member
    Lot's of speculation here about Apple bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.
    The question is though:   WHY would they want to do that?

    Will it produce a better product?
    Will it produce a cheaper product?

    One thing about Apple:  The only ideology they believe is that making great products is the start and foundation of everything they do.   For the rest, the tend to be very pragmatic:  Whatever will provide them with that Great Product is what they will do and where they will go...
    Currently, there is so much infrastructure in place in Asia that that alone may make the finances of domestic production prohibitive. Legal and regulatory issues play a big roll, too. Microelectronic plants use a lot of toxic chemicals, and even though environmental laws are starting to improve in Asia, we are all still getting cheaper goods at the expense of another country’s environmental pollution and human labor. Even if Apple tries to be better than other companies in this regard, there’s a lot of room between ‘better than company X’ and ‘as good as the US’ when it comes to these areas.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 15 of 66
    Cesar Battistini MazieroCesar Battistini Maziero Posts: 96unconfirmed, member
    They need to make the production process very secretive and patent the hell out of everything. Them they should partner with LG and manufacture all products screens in house. Samsung would be stuck with their inferior screen technology.
  • Reply 16 of 66
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,290member
    I sometimes wish Apple wasn't so concentrated in one area simply from the standpoint of potential natural disasters occurring.  I know, I know, Cupertino  isn't even close to a fault line ...  :(
    edited March 19
  • Reply 17 of 66
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 146member
    OLED displays are a class of micro LED display.

    Compared to reflective displays (think the old GameBoy, most calculators, e-Ink Kindles, &c.) and transmissive displays (most computer LCDs, including those used in phones), micro LED displays are emissive. They create their own light as a part of how they operate. This gives them extremely deep black levels, since when a pixel is supposed to be black, you just don't turn it on.

    Organic molecules have been easiest to arrange in patterns of different colors so far, but inorganic LED fabrication technology is rapidly reaching the point of feasibility. Moving to inorganic solves some of the issues with organic, but most issues with organic have been overblown, just like issues with flash storage.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 18 of 66
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,721member
    While I hope this all is true, I just don't know.  Samesung has out a MicroLED 4K TV.  But because of size limitations of the MicroLED's, the TV is 146 Inches in size.

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnarcher/2018/01/11/samsungs-micro-led-tv-first-impressions-146-inches-of-magnificent-weirdness/#65bcf6a37866
  • Reply 19 of 66
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,478member
    ascii said:
    They might not even have to bring it to the phone, just bringing it to the watch might be enough to make Samsung drop their phone screen prices.
    I actually think a pair of Apple AR Glasses will be the first recipient of this technology.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 20 of 66
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 30,371member
    Soli said:
    Bring it on home! Design, component manufacuture, assembly - the whole works. The pleasant and secure shape of things to come!
    There are so many reasons why it's just not feasible for something whose minerals can't be completely mined in the states all the way to needing staff in the 6 digits with 10s of thousands of parallel assembly lines.

    For even just microLED to be final manufacturing in the US it would have to be completely automated, but even then you'd still need to send all the displays to China for assembly.

    The only reason the Mac Pro could do this was because it was low volume, and even then it was just final assembly and still delayed (the latter aspect may or may not have been because they assembled in the US).

    During the most recent Xmas quarter, Apple sold slightly fewer than 80 million iPhones, about 900,000 a day. Obligingly, a day has 86,400 seconds, so we round up to 90,000 to get a production yield of ten iPhones per second.

    But producing a phone isn’t instantaneous, it isn’t like the click of the shutter in a high-speed camera. Let’s assume that it takes about 15 minutes (rounded up to 1,000 seconds) to assemble a single iPhone. How many parallel production pipes need to accumulate ten phones a second? 1,000 divided by 1/10 equals…10,000! Ten thousand parallel pipes in order to output ten phones per second.

    We can juggle the numbers, but it’s still difficult to comprehend the scale and complexity of the iPhone production machine, to build a reliable mental representation.
    PS: As an American I hope I'm dead wrong and that Apple can bring "the whole works" to the US for all their products from where they source minerals, who designs and build their machines that make their devices, etc., but I really don't see that ever happening.
    I see no reason why a display can’t be made here. Something like a MicroLED is similar to a chip in enough ways so that it could be done here. Only when massive numbers of people are needed is it impractical.

    and we’re manufacturing more that we ever did. This is also something people don’t understand. We took a big hit in the Bush recession, but manufacturing has made a massive comeback, but it’s not politically correct to admit it, even though the manufacturing index shows it to be true. What we don’t make that much of is small consumer facing products that do need that large number of people, such as clothing. Cheap toys as well.
    pscooter63
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