Apple still plans to use Apple Watch Ultra with MicroLED and is looking for new suppliers

Tim Hardwick

Apple remains committed to microLED despite speculation that its project to bring the display technology to the Apple Watch Ultra has been scrapped, according to reports from Taiwan and Korea.

Last week, Apple supplier OSRAM announced that a “capstone project” had been “unexpectedly cancelled” . Display supply chain consultants Counterpoint Research told MacRumors that the project is linked to rumors of an Apple Watch with a microLED display.

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo later weighed in on the matter, saying Apple had canceled the project for the “foreseeable future.”

Contrary to this belief, DigiTimes and ETNews report that Apple still has several internal teams dedicated to microLED projects and is actively looking for alternative suppliers. “The OSRAM LED chip may have been replaced due to performance degradation, and Apple may have already found a replacement in Taiwan or China, which are leading the microLED field,” reports ETNews.

According to DigiTimes, Taiwanese AU Optronics (AUO) and PlayNitride are considered potential leaders in meeting Apple's manufacturing needs. AUO has just started mass production of microLED watch panels, and PayNitride is mass producing corresponding chips.

Negotiations between Apple and PlayNitride have reportedly stalled due to scale limitations, but AUO has apparently emerged as a “promising partner” thanks to its advances in microLED display applications.

The reports are consistent with TrendForce's comments. which previously said Taiwan and South Korea have a “robust pipeline of Micro LED chip manufacturers, backplanes and related transmission processes.”

Kuo last week said microLED production costs currently amount to “too high” for the Apple Watch Ultra project to be “economically viable.” But according to industry sources cited by DigiTimes, the high costs of early-stage microLED production remain within expectations.

“Given Apple's experience in development, the high costs associated with pioneering technologies are usually manageable and can be addressed as long as production continues to increase,” the report said. “However, the key challenge remains overcoming the associated technological bottlenecks.”

These bottlenecks are said to include the lack of LED driving circuits, potentially increasing the risk of damage to the LED chip. “Additionally, the die technology solution does not provide accurate transfer, especially when interacting with Osram vertical chips,” DigiTimes reports.

The main takeaway from today's reports is that Apple is likely still hoping to eventually move to microLED in the future, but the Apple Watch Ultra won't necessarily be the first product to use the technology. According to a separate report from The Elec, Apple may instead decide to prioritize microLED technology for future, lighter versions of the Apple Vision Pro while it waits for the Watch's implementation costs to come down.

Related review: Apple Watch Ultra 2 Tags: DigiTimes, microLED Apple Watch Guide Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch Ultra (Buy Now) Related Forum: Apple Watch[ 12 comments ]

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