Apple plans to overhaul the display technologies found in its most popular device lines, according to a series of leaks over the past few days and insights from people familiar with these issues. Dramatic changes could occur in each of the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, and MacBook lineups. The big question is: when will it happen?
MicroLED coming to Apple Watch and iPhone
Apple plans to use microLED technology in a new version of the Apple Watch Ultra. This is a true next-gen screen type currently found on the world’s most stylish TVs.
MicroLED delivers truly exceptional levels of brightness, matched by the incredible contrast of OLED, as each pixel provides its own light source.
This is of particular interest to Apple Watch owners because the microLED will also reduce power consumption and hopefully enable Apple smartwatches to last much longer on a single charge than they currently do. The one-and-a-half-day battery life on the Apple Watch Series 8 soon becomes frustrating, and therefore microLED could change the game.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, by the end of 2024 we should see the first Apple devices to use this technology, namely the Watch Ultra.
However, the idea is expected to extend to iPhones as well, and Pro models are the most likely candidates for the microLED treatment.
“Although they plan to introduce it primarily on the Apple Watch, I believe this [microLED] “It could come to iPad and Mac,” said Francisco Jeronimo, VP of data analyst IDC Europe.
Will Apple start making its own displays?
Currently, Apple does not make its own displays. Chinese BOE and Korea’s Samsung or LG are creating OLED displays for iPhones. Meanwhile, LG Display makes most of the displays that go into MacBooks and even produced the panel in the 2022 Apple Studio Display.
For the Apple gadget fan, microLED means higher brightness with less battery life, but there’s more to it as well. These screens will actually be manufactured by Apple.
Taking control of this process from start to finish, Apple gains much more control over its own products. You can compare this to the way Apple phones use their own Apple A-series processors, which translate into the powerful M1 and M2-series laptop processors seen in MacBooks. These chips are actually made by Taiwan’s TSMC, but Apple could map them much more tightly to its own software and other hardware.
“Apple markets the Retina Display as the key to a Mac experience. MicroLED will go a step further in terms of contrast, brightness, eye comfort, energy efficiency and longer lifespan,” explains Francisco Jeronimo. The downside is that it will almost inevitably mean price increases.
Will Apple produce touchscreen laptops?
The idea of microLED isn’t the only innovation on the horizon. There’s more to come, and some of these changes may precede microLED.
The touchscreen laptop has always been a device that Apple would never create. In 2010, Steve Jobs said, “Touchpads don’t want to be vertical. It gives a great demo, but after a while you start to get tired and after a long time your arm just wants to drop. It doesn’t work, it sucks ergonomically.” And that is before I notice all the fingerprints.
Apple tried to add touch capabilities to its laptops with the Touch Bar in 2016, but this was generally disliked and not supported by the software. It was discontinued in 2021.
So what has changed? Well, the firm already supports iPad and iPhone apps on Macs that contain Apple chips. Today’s MacBooks can run applications designed specifically for touchscreen use, and that could eventually be the key to unlocking touchscreen Macs. Yes, a MacBook with a touchscreen would be troublesome. But the weirdness is already there in today’s MacBook laptops.
In reality, touchscreen computers remain a niche product on Windows and Chrome OS. In 2022, global sales represented only 14.3% of the total laptop category according to IDC, a year-on-year decline. It’s also likely that many people have purchased these despite (not because of) their touchscreen capabilities.
“Today, there is no significant advantage for users to have a touchscreen laptop,” says Jeronimo. “But Apple has disrupted the market by offering a unique touch experience on the iPad. It’s probably time to do the same on the Mac.” Only time will tell whether that will happen.
Will Apple produce MacBooks and iPads with OLED displays?
If Apple does offer touchscreens, they’ll likely be part of a more familiar OLED display, not a cool new microLED display. Apple reportedly needs to upgrade its premium iPads and MacBooks with this popular display technology currently found in TVs and iPhone displays. This is likely to happen in June when the new MacBook Pro is finally confirmed, but it could also slide to the next version. The emphasis right now is more on affordability than luxury.
According to analyst Ross Young, Apple plans to launch 11.1-inch and 13-inch iPad Pro tablets with OLED displays in the first quarter of 2024. You can buy an extremely bright mini LED iPad Pro 12.9 right now. It’s a regular old 11-inch iPad Pro with a 120Hz display, so this move will bring the Pro tablets closer together.
It also seems possible to see tablet-sized OLED displays reaching the maximum brightness of 1,600 nits achieved by the mini LED panel of the iPad Pro 12.9. After all, you wouldn’t expect Apple to introduce a new display technology that could be perceived as a downgrade.
What about everyone else?
Apple is far from the only company pushing the boundaries with what’s possible on mobile device screens. For example, Samsung is making microLED displays for its Galaxy wearables this year, at least according to SamMobile.
The firm also showed off a microLED TV at CES in 2018. It was a 146-inch monster called The Wall. Frankly, this wasn’t the kind of television people would actually buy. However, Samsung said at CES 2023 that it plans to launch microLED sets ranging from 50 inches to 140 inches later this year. Stay tuned mate.
What is extremely clear is that the way screens work is about to evolve. The first wave of microLED devices is coming and seems to come this year.