OLED is a new display technology, used to create thin, power efficient and bright displays. Today OLEDs are used in mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras and even TV sets - as OLEDs are considered the best display technology ever.
Apple's OLED iPhone
Apple's 10th anniversary iPhone X was the company's first OLED Phone - with a 5.8" 1125x2436 (458 PPI) flexible Super AMOLED display. Since then Apple has been adding more OLED iPhones, and as of 2021, the company's entire smartphone lineup adopts AMOLED displays.
The OLED Apple Watch
In April 2015 Apple launched its first wearable device, the Apple Watch which used a flexible AMOLED display (made by LG Display). All Apple Watch products to date continue to use flexible AMOLED displays. OLED displays are especially suitable for wearable devices - as the displays are thinner and lighter than LCD displays, and are more power efficient (especially if you tweak the UI to suit the special OLED properties). According to reports, Apple is developing next-generation MicroLED display technologies for future wearable devices.
Apple OLED MacBook Pro
Apple's MacBook Pro range of high-end laptops started adopting an OLED Touch Bar instead of the traditional function keys in 2016. The display itself is either a 13" or a 15" LCD.
The OLED strip is supported by most of Apple's applications and can show commonly used emojis in messaging applications, bookmarks while you browse and other context-activated options. It also includes a Touch ID sensor that is activated for example when you wish to pay online (on supported web stores). Apple released an API to developers can support the Touch Bar in third-party applications.
The latest Apple OLED news:
Japan Display (JDI) plans to start producing medium-sized OLED displays, to be used in tablets and laptops. The company hopes to start producing the first panels (which will be around 14-inch in size) by 2025.
Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED (BOE panel)
Up until now, JDI focused on the production of wearable OLED displays, selling its panels for Apple's smartwatches since 2019. The company's production volume was limited, and so was its technology capabilities to increase production panel sizes. It will be interesting to see whether JDI hopes to also supply its future laptop/tablet panels to Apple.
In March 2023 we reported that BOE is developing smartphone OLED displays for Apple's iPhone 15 range, but it is facing technical hurdles, and Apple has yet to approve BOE's displays (the main problem seemed to be around the punch-hole and selfie camera and FaceID sensors).
Today Korean media says that Apple decided to cancel all of BOE's iPhone 15 display panel orders, and has moved all these orders to Samsung Display. Meanwhile LG Display has been approved as a supplier to only some of the iPhone models (specifically not the iPhone 15 Pro Max phone), and Samsung Display remains the only company that provides the displays for all of the iPhone 15 models.
According to reports from Korea, both Samsung Display and LG Display have approached Apple, offering to produce MLA (Multi-Lens Array) AMOLED displays for a future iPhone device. Applying the MLA panel will increase the light output, but will carry higher costs and may also reduce the viewing angles (or actually reduce the side-view brightness).
It is not clear what kind of effect will MLA offer in Apple's case. When LG applied MLA to its TV panels, the company says it improved the brightness by 60% (it also stated that viewing angles actually increased by 30%). Apple will not be the first one to apple MLA to smartphone displays - Samsung itself adopted MLA panels in some of its high-end models (Galaxy S Ultra phones) and so did some other vendors.
Apple first VR headset, the Apple Vision Pro, adopts dual 1.3" 4K OLED microdisplays made by Sony. According to reports, Apple is looking to replace Sony as its supplier and is testing displays made by Seeya and BOE. Apple seems to be aiming to adopt these in its next-gen Vision Pro model - and also in a future low-cost mixed-reality headset.
Sony officially launched its 1.3" 4K OLED displays last week, with an official price of $1,000 per unit. Some reports suggest that Apple is paying $350 per display - which is still very expensive, as the two OLED displays cost almost half of the total production cost of the Vision Pro (estimated at $1,500).
Back in 2021, Sony unveiled a 4K OLED microdisplay prototype. In June Apple announced the Vision Pro headset, which uses two Sony-made 1.3" 4K (3,552 × 3,840) OLED microdisplay, made by Sony. And today Sony finally officially introduced its ECX344A display, targeting VR and AR devices.
Sony says that in order to develop the new display it developed new miniaturization processes as well as a new pixel drive circuits and a high-speed driver circuit. Sony says that the display will ship by the end of 2023 and its price is set at 150,000 Yen, or just over $1,000 USD (it is estimated that Apple pays around $350 for each panel).
During a trade show, Samsung Display discussed its zero-border, or full-screen OLED technology. Samsung is developing several technologies to enable this kind of display - including 3D bonding, edge brightness control, and an under-the-display camera (Samsung calls its UPC, under-panel-camera).
Placing the camera under the OLED is a critical part of this solution, and Samsung said that it is developing the technology to enable this - including an increase of 50% in the light transmission of its OLED displays and a new sub-pixel structure that improves the display quality.
LG Display reported its financial results for Q2 2023, with revenues of 4.74 trillion Won ($3.7 billion USD) - up 7% from last quarter, and an operating loss of 881 billion Won ($690 million USD). LGD says that demand for display panels increased during the quarter.
LGD is on track to begin mass production of medium-sized panels in the first half of 2024, building a new 6-Gen production line, that is reportedly aimed to supply for Apple's iPad Pro, the first Apple tablet to sport an AMOLED display.
According to a report from Korea, Apple approached both LG Display and Samsung Display, asking its suppliers to develop a completely bezel-less AMOLED display for future iPhones.
Designing an OLED without a bezel is a challenge, mostly because of the encapsulation layer that has to protect the OLEDs. Using an under-the-display camera is also said to be a problem for the OLED makers in such a design.
Market research firm Omdia says that according to its latest forecast, the OLED market will grow at a CAGR of 11% from 2022 to 2030, by total display production area.
The main OLED application is smartphone displays, and Omdia says that in 2022 the penetration of OLED displays into that market reached 42%. The market share of OLED smartphones will rise steadily in the future. The OLED TV market is experiencing a slowdown, but Omdia says it will resume growth in 2024.
An interesting video review shows a new repair system, based on lasers, that can fix defects in smartphone AMOLED displays. The system uses optical microscopy to find defects in operating OLED displays, and then a laser is used to fix the problems:
Such systems can be useful, but of course won't be able to fix all problems and defects in AMOLED displays, only ones that were caused by physical problems in conductive lines in the OLED module, that can be fixed by lasers. It will be interesting to see if these machines will truly find a place in the OLED repair aftermarket scene.