Apple is currently using an LGD 1.57" 394x324 LTPO AMOLED display (1.78" 448x368 on the larger 44mm version) in its latest Watch smart wearable device. Apple's involvement in Micro-LED displays started in 2014 when it acquired LuxVue, and it was always assumed that Apple's main aim for the new display technology is to adopt it in wearable devices.

PlayNitride high-brightness high-density passive-matrix wearable Micro-LED prototype (SID 2019)

According to a new report from Taiwan, PlayNitride and RiTDisplay are in talks with Apple to supply microLED displays for Apple's next-generation Watch wearable. A micro-LED display could offer much higher brightness and efficiency compared to an AMOLED display, both of which could be highly desirable in wearable devices.

In May 2019 Taiwan-based PMOLED display maker RiT Display announced a strategic partnership and share swap with PlayNitride MicroLED developer. In June 2019 it was reported that a US-based smartwatch brand will start a design process in Q3 2019 using a 1.25" micro-LED display that was co-developed by RiTDisplay and PlayNitride. RiT will start shipping samples in Q4 2019. Interestingly the latest report from Taiwan says that PlayNitride confirmed it is in talks with US customers regarding a 3" full-color Micro-LED display, which is a very large display for a wearable device and could be a mistake in the report.

In early 2018 Bloomberg reported that Apple is progressing with its own Micro-LED development project, and has already managed to produce promising display samples. It also reported that Apple is collaborating with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company towards mass production of Micro-LED panels.



Apple Watch photo

But Apple seems to be looking for collaborations as well, and a possible tie-up with PlayNitride was reported as early as April 2018.

If this report is true, Micro-LEDs could start disrupting the wearable display market sooner than expected, which could be quite bad news for LG Display (who shipped 16 million AMOLEDs for Apple's Watch in 2018) and perhaps Japan Display as well (who reportedly signed a supply agreement with Apple for the 2019 Watch display OLEDs, and could once again find itself on the wrong side of Apple's technology roadmap).

IHS says that recent years have seen a drastic growth in smartwatch shipments - the market grew from 9.4 million units in 2014 to 149 million units in 2018. In just one year, shipments grew 42% from 2017 to 2018. OLED displays are leading this segment - with around 80% of shipments in 2018 (the rest are mostly LCD displays). AMOLED display shipments were around 42 million and PMOLED shipments reached around 75 million. RiTDisplay alone, according to IHS, shipped 32.5 million monochrome PMOLED displays to low-end fitness bands (for Xiaomi and other Chinese makers).

Smartwatch display shipments by technology (IHS, 2014-2018)

DSCC says that shipments of smartwatch OLED displays grew 124% in the first quarter of 2019, and the company expects yearly shipments to grow 28% in 2019 to reach 63.9 million units.

Smartwatch OLED shipments (2018-2019, DSCC)

Even though each single display is small (around 1.4-inch), smartwatches are the third largest OLED application in terms of revenues (after smartphones and TVs) and total revenues will reach $1.5 billion in 2019. Micro-LED should certainly not be ignored by OLED developers!

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