Now they’re just showing off.
Apple Inc., the second-most valuable public company in the world, is continuing its current streak of bringing products in-house. Beginning with its power-management chips—a move disclosed in late 2017 which sent chip-maker Dialog’s stocks tumbling—they’ve now set their sights on developing their own MicroLED screens.
Currently, Apple products rely on screens made by outside purveyors: LG Display for their normal screens, and Samsung for the OLED found on the iPhone X. And while OLED technology was heralded as the future when it was announced that it would be found on the X (and will continue to be found on iPhones in the near future, including their Fall 2018 release), MicroLED has been called an “an OLED killer in the long term.”
Of course, this leaves Apple in an awkward position, pushing products which rely on a technology they themselves are actively trying to supplant. Hence why, until Bloomberg broke the story yesterday, work on the MicroLED was kept a secret, with 300 or so engineers being housed in a nondescript building approximately fifteen minutes from Apple headquarters. As one Apple employee told Bloomberg regarding the off-campus site, “We put a lot of money into the facility. It’s big enough to get through the engineering builds [and] lets us keep everything in-house during the development stages.” Unfortunately it seems someone has let the cat out of the bag.
The Bloomberg article ends by stating that currently the facility is capable of producing only “a handful of fully operational Apple Watch-sized… MicroLED screens at a time,” and that it will take “at least three to five years” before the tech will reach an iPhone. However, Dongbu Securities analyst S.R. Kwon, speaking to Reuters, sees the move differently. Rather than the beginning of a push to replace third-party OLEDs with in-house MicroLEDs, he views it as a publicity move and a show of strength. He says:
It is not clear whether MicroLED will be better than the OLED displays Apple uses for its smartwatches. At this point, this seems to me that Apple wants to show off – its more of what look what we can do rather than a realistic alternative.
Either way, screen makers and their investors are running scared. LG Display fell (.89%) while Japan Display fell (3%.)
Of course, any time a leak comes from Apple, there is much to be wary of. The fact that anything slips through such a tightly-run company always make the “leaked” information that much more suspicious given the high probability it was a “leak” authorized by Apple execs themselves.