Apple is widely expected to launch an OLED iPhone this year, which would be a first for the iPhone since its introduction 10 years ago. But a new report from Korea suggests that Apple is already working on a new screen technology that might debut with the Apple Watch Series 3 later this year. The next-gen wearable will have a new type of display, one that could then be used on future iPhone models, and potentially impact the bottom line of various Apple suppliers.
According to Business Korea, the Apple Watch Series 3 will have a micro-LED display rather than an OLED screen as its predecessors. If micro-LED sounds familiar that’s because a flurry of reports in late 2015 and early 2016 claimed that an Apple team is working on this particular technology in a secret lab in Taiwan.
Micro-LED screens should be smaller than alternatives, and more energy-efficient. Business Korea notes that micro-LED displays would also be thinner and lighter than OLED or LCD screens. LG, the exclusive provider of OLED screens for the Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 is expected to take a financial hit to the tune of over $200 million when Apple makes the switch from OLED to micro-LED. The report says that Apple will actually begin mass production of micro-LED for the next Apple Watch in Taiwan at the end of the year.
The worry here is that once the technology is further perfected, Apple might fully make the jump from OLED to micro-LED. The report says that Samsung and LG would lose around $1 billion a year should they lose Apple’s business. It’s not clear when Apple would be ready to use micro-LED display tech in bigger devices like the iPhone. The report says that Apple is likely to use OLED displays for the iPhone 9 that will be launched next year, but these panels would be manufactured by Chinese company BOE. Even in such a case, South Korean suppliers would lose some of Apple’s business.
Multiple reports in the past years have detailed the efforts of various display makers, including Samsung, LG, Japan Display, BOE, and others to win Apple’s OLED display orders. Currently, Samsung is in an advantageous position, being the exclusive supplier of the iPhone 8’s OLED screen. Apple is likely looking to add more vendors to the mix, to make sure it has enough stock on hand, and that it can keep driving costs downwards.