According to Display Supply Chain Consultants, an analysis organization in the display field, since Apple will soon launch new iPads and MacBooks and other products that will use OLED displays to replace Mini LED panels, the growth in shipments of Mini LED panels will continue until 2024 at most, but It will basically stop rising from 2025.
According to analysts’ estimates, Mini LED panel shipments will reach 24.47 million this year and 30.23 million in 2024. From 2025 to 2027, annual shipments will remain at around 30 million pieces.
From Mini LED to OLED
In the past few years, Apple has been looking for better panel materials for large-size display devices such as iPads and MacBooks. In 2021, Apple’s performance after using Mini LED for iPad and Macbook is very impressive. Coupled with the assistance of the M1 and M2 series processors, these two product lines have become an important source of Apple’s revenue.
Mini LED is actually a screen backlight technology that upgrades the backlight of the liquid crystal layer, that is, the LED light in the backlight is miniaturized, and it is still an LCD screen in essence. The size of each LED lamp bead is about 50-200μm, and the backlight layer has more backlight lamp beads so that the screen can obtain better brightness and brightness uniformity.
The emergence of Mini LED has narrowed the gap between LCD and OLED screen materials, but at present, Mini LED has not been able to get rid of the inherent problems of poor viewing angle and narrow color gamut of LCD screens. If you want to solve the problem of a narrow color gamut, you need to add another layer of quantum dot film (QLED technology) to the Mini LED display to increase the color gamut, but using this method will greatly increase the cost.
With the change of products, Mini LED gradually failed to meet the needs of users. The characteristics of OLED, such as thinner, lighter, higher brightness, lower power consumption, faster response, higher definition, better flexibility and higher luminous efficiency, make it one of the best alternative products at present.
The use experience of OLED panels in the past few years is indeed unsatisfactory. Under the design of the fixed Dock program bar of iPadOS and macOS, the mission life of the screen may be affected. Under the balance of the two, Apple chose to abandon the excellent visual experience brought by OLED.
However, the current OLED technology is quite mature, and there is basically no need to pay attention to the phenomenon of screen burn-in. Most electronic products will not use screen burn-in during the normal use cycle. Apple began to provide the “always on display” function on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, which shows that the problem of service life has been alleviated to a certain extent.
In addition to the problem of service life, Apple insists on not using OLED panels on large-size display devices, and there are also cost considerations. After years of development and technology iterations, OLED screens have been greatly improved in terms of production capacity and cost.
With the above conditions, Apple is expected to start using OLED panels on iPads next year and then switch to OLED panels on Macbooks in 2025. According to existing news, Samsung will provide OLED screens for Apple this time and will develop OLED panels for the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Due to the optimization of OLED technology, continuous cost reduction and related changes in the market, it is expected that the market share of OLED in tablet and notebook applications will gradually increase, and the share of OLED in high-end tablet and notebook products will overtake Mini LED in the future.
At the same time, the use of Mini LED panels will shift to TVs and monitors within three years, while the use of tablets and notebooks will gradually decline.
Why OLED becomes popular in new generation?
The most typical structure of OLED is the “sandwich-like” type, which is composed of a thin and transparent indium tin oxide (ITO) with semiconducting properties, connected to the positive electrode of electricity, and another metal cathode to form a hole transport Layer (HTL), light emitting layer (EL) and electron transport layer (ETL) three structures.
When a certain voltage is given, the electrons of the anode and the cathode will meet and combine in the light-emitting layer to generate photons. There is a special organic material (O in OLED) in the light-emitting layer to change the three primary colors of red, green and blue together with photons.
To use an easy-to-understand metaphor, the principle of OLED is like “electrocuting” organic materials. Once the cathode and anode are electrified, the organic materials will be “electrically luminous”. Since the three primary color points of red, green and blue in each pixel can be controlled by a separate voltage to emit light, there is no need for a large area of backlight as the “bright source” of the screen, so this technology is also called self-luminous technology.
OLED has the characteristic of self-illumination, saves the structure of backlight module and color filter, and is relatively thinner. Moreover, each pixel of OLED can be independently controlled on and off, which can achieve pixel-level light control. LCD screens usually require all LEDs in the backlight module to be on, while OLED imaging only needs to light up the pixels it needs, which makes OLED a huge potential for power saving.
In terms of display, due to the existence of the backlight all the time, the LCD screen cannot display black. Therefore, in terms of contrast, OLED screens are slightly better, with the advantages of clear black and white color, realistic and vivid picture quality, thin thickness, and wide viewing angles.
Compared with Mini LED, the new OLED panel has a higher contrast ratio and lower power consumption, providing more possibilities for Apple’s next-generation devices in terms of display effects and battery life. The most important definition of a good screen should be the ability to restore the true colors of the world as much as possible, and OLED can definitely do a good job at this point. But is OLED the answer?
Micro LED is the ultimate answer
In addition to expanding the use of OLED, Apple is also actively using other new display technologies. According to the whistleblower Mark Gurman, Apple is currently developing a Micro LED screen, which will be Apple’s first custom-designed display, and this screen will be applied to the Apple Watch Ultra released in 2024. Not only that, but also in the future, it will be applied to iPhone, iPad and other devices.
Micro LED is a micro light-emitting diode, which is a miniaturization and matrix technology of LED. To put it simply, the LED backlight is thinned, miniaturized, and arrayed, with high integration and self-illumination without the need for a backlight. Inorganic gallium nitride is used as the light-emitting material.
Since Micro LED uses self-illuminating individual micron-scale LEDs, it is almost consistent with the color gamut that current top OLED displays can provide. At the same time, due to the stability of LED inorganic substances, the color can maintain consistency and stability no matter how long it is used, which is incomparable to OLED.
On the other hand, due to the simple structure, low energy consumption and higher photoelectric conversion efficiency of Micro LED, the power consumption can be as low as 10% of LCD and 50% of OLED. The energy is used to emit light directly, so that the highest brightness can go to nearly 2000 nits.
Compared with OLED, Micro LED can support higher brightness, higher dynamic range and wider color gamut, while achieving faster update rate, wider viewing angle and lower power consumption. This is an important reason why Apple wants to develop Micro LED.
The biggest obstacle to applying Micro LED to Apple Watch may be the high cost of Micro LED screens. The MicroLED Association estimates that the price of OLED of the 1.78-inch Apple Watch will be $20, while the target price of Micro LED displays with the same resolution will exceed $40.
In addition to reaching the display target price, there are still many challenges to be solved in terms of backplane (TFT) technology and Micro LED chip transfer and repair.
The advantage of Micro LED comes from its millions of micron LEDs, and the difficulty also arises in this. At present, Micro LED mainly has three technical difficulties and problems: quantum efficiency Droop effect (limited effective light-emitting surface, low efficiency of red LED), driving ability matching problem (requiring high current, low power consumption driving materials), massive transfer problem (high process requirements, high precision requirements, high cost).
Even if the Micro LED technology is not mature enough, the main challenges lie in the breakthrough of key technologies and the reduction of mass production costs. The commercialization process in the mass consumer market is still very long, but its various advantages show that it does represent the future direction of electronic device screens.