The Apple Watch’s OLED screen has long been rumored to be in line for an upgrade to microLED technology. But momentum has been gathering in recent weeks with both the analyst Jeff Pu and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman suggesting that Apple is gearing up to make the switch on its Apple Watch Ultra — and perhaps as soon as next year.
Now Ross Young can be added to the list of microLED predictors. The analyst tweeted that LG is building “a small line for microLED backplanes for the Apple Watch.”
It would be a big step forwards. MicroLED technology maintains many of the advantages of OLED in that panels are made from millions of self-lit LEDs allowing for true black and infinite contrast. But it also offer better color accuracy and — crucially for wearables — more energy efficiency, meaning improved battery life.
The downside is cost, with microLED panels costing significantly more. That’s why it makes sense for Apple to debut the technology in something small, like the screen on a wrist-based wearable, rather than planting one in an iPad or MacBook.
We published in our November Capex Report that LGD is building a small line for microLED backplanes for the Apple Watch. It doesn't start production till 2H'24. It is this small line that will likely assemble microLEDs from Apple for '25 launch. Apple won't do the full process.January 13, 2023
LG’s reported involvement is exciting, given the company’s strong pedigree in making panels for the best TVs out there.
But it’s not all good news. Young adds that LG won’t start production until the second half of 2024, meaning hopes of the technology debuting on next year’s Apple Watch seem slim. “It is this small line that will likely assemble microLEDs from Apple for '25 launch,” Young wrote, adding that “Apple won’t do the full process.”
So Pu predicts 2024 while Young thinks 2025. While it’s generally safe to assume the more conservative option is accurate, there is a way that both predictions could be correct.
An Apple Watch Ultra exclusive?
While both Pu and Gurman highlight the Apple Watch Ultra as the likely place for a microLED panel to debut, it’s notable that Young doesn’t use the U-word in his tweets about a 2025 Apple Watch.
That leaves the door open to both Pu and Young being right, with Apple debuting a microLED screen in a small batch on the 2024 Apple Watch Ultra, before the screen tech gets passed down to the regular Apple Watch 11 via LG in 2025.
Is that likely? Well, Apple’s Pro features do tend to arrive on the lower-cost products over time (think Face ID on iPhones and Apple Pencil support on iPads), but one generation may be a touch optimistic for this specific upgrade.
But with the Apple Watch Ultra’s high price likely ensuring it remains a niche product for the foreseeable future, the company would certainly need to produce fewer panels than if it went all in on microLED for the entire range in one go. With that in mind, a two-step approach feels likely in some capacity, whenever it occurs.