Korea media reports that Apple's upcoming smartwatch will sport a flexible OLED

Back in December 2012, rumors started to circulate about an upcoming Apple smartwatch called the iWatch. At first it was reported that Apple will use a 1.5" touch PMOLED made by RitDisplay. Later on in 2013 it was reported that Apple will use 1.5" PMOLEDs produced by Foxconn. Today Korea's Chosun Ilbo claims that Apple decided to use a plastic flexible OLED panel.

Apple 2011 flexible OLED watch patent

According to the reports, Apple is developing three models, with 1.3", 1.4" and 1.5" displays. They already produced a prototype 1.5" device. Chosun is quoting "industry sources" in their short article.

So, is it likely that this rumor is true? First of all, we know that Apple is interested in flexible OLEDs. In August 2011 Apple filed a patent that describes a flexible screen that can turn into a warp-around bracelet using a bi-stable spring (see image above). The patent specifically mentions OLED emissive technology. In April 2013 Apple posted a new job opening - they were looking for a "Display Specialist to lead the investigation on emerging display technologies such as high optical efficiency LCD, AMOLED and flexible display". In past years Apple filed several OLED patents (and specifically several flexible OLED ones).

But who can supply Apple with those panels? As far as I know, two companies are developing flexible PMOLEDs: Futaba and Pioneer. But both aren't producing these panels yet and they won't have the capacity required to supply Apple. It's not likely that Apple will opt for a PMOLED screen anyway because they'll probably require a high resolution even in a small display.

Emopulse canceled flexible OLED smartwatch project

That leaves us with a flexible AMOLED. While many companies are working on those panels, the two Korean giants, LG and Samsung are clearly the leaders. It seems to me that Samsung isn't likely to supply Apple with panels. They would have opted for a flexible AMOLED themselves if they could for the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and according to reports they will need the capacity for the new Galaxy Note 3 variant that will use a flexible AMOLED.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

LG Display is also on the verge of flexible AMOLED production. The company unveiled 5" panels at SID 2013 and is reportedly on track to start producing them before the end of 2013. Earlier reports suggested that LG Electronics will release a mobile phone with a flexible OLED towards the end of the year. LG Display's flexible AMOLED capacity is low: their pilot line is 4.5-Gen one with a a capacity of 12,000 monthly sheets. At 100% yield this is less than 500,000 5" panels a month, and obviously initial yields won't be so high. So they won't be able to use this in a mass market phone, but if they opt for smaller panels (1.5") then it could make sense as they will be able to make millions of panels in a month. But it seems to me that the company would rather use the first batch of displays for their own products, same as Samsung.

LGD flexible OLED prototypeLG Display flexible AMOLED prototype

So there we have it. Another Apple-OLED rumor, this time with a flexible display. I'm sure that in the near future we will see an Apple product with an OLED display, I'm not sure if the smartwatch (if it is real anyway) will be the first one to appear. We'll wait and see!

Posted: Oct 01,2013 by Ron Mertens