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Apple bets big on micro-LED tech to eventually reduce reliance on Samsung for iPhone screens

We’ve known for a while that Apple has been investing into research and development of micro-LED screen technology, which looks to be the best of both worlds of current-tech OLED and mini-LED displays.

Today, Nikkei says that Apple has even designed some of the production equipment itself, as well as partnering with LG Display for substrates and silicon wafers from TSMC. The eventual goal is to use micro-LED screens on the iPhone, reducing reliance on Samsung Display, which currently produces the majority of iPhone screens, with Samsung the industry leader in OLED production.

micro-LED features individually lit pixels, offering the high-contrast and deep black levels of OLED. But unlike OLED, it is not an organic material, which means it is not susceptible to issues like burn-in. The panels will also be thinner and more energy efficient. The miniature size of the micro-LED chips may also allow displays to be combined with other sensors more effectively, like higher-fidelity under-screen fingerprint scanners, among other benefits.

As the display is often the most expensive single component of an iPhone, there are also big opportunities for cost savings and margins improvements potential if Apple can own the display technology itself, rather than relying on Samsung intellectual property as it is forced to do at the moment to secure high-quality OLED panels for the iPhone.

However, making micro-LED displays is complex, and some challenges remain to scale up production. Nikkei says Apple’s micro-LED technology is still at the samples stage, with a goal to ship micro-LED on the Apple Watch as soon as 2025 (corroborating previous reports). Nikkei says Apple currently has micro-LED research facilities in the US, Taiwan, and Japan.

The Apple Watch will come first as it is easier to make micro-LED screens at smaller sizes. Perhaps in five years’ time, Apple will be ready to make micro-LED displays en mass at screen sizes appropriate for use in iPhones.

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Avatar for Benjamin Mayo Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.