Commercialization of Micro LEDs Expected to Occur in 2017-2018

Micro LED, a strong contender to mainstream LCD and OLED display technologies, is regarded as the next generation of display technology and has gained worldwide attention. As manufacturers continue to pour resources into developing related technologies, Wu Jin-rong, General Manager of Taiwan-based IC manufacturer Explore Microelectronics, estimated that commercial applications of Micro LED will appear in 2018. The first major move will be Apple switching to Micro LED display for its next Apple Watch model.
 
(Image: Wikipedia)
 
One can think of Micro LED display as a microscopic form of a large outdoor LED display. In theory, Micro-LED display makes LED structures thinner, smaller, and in an array structure. The size of Micro LEDs is only about 1% of mainstream LEDs. Each Micro LED pixel can be addressed and individually driven to brightness with pixel pitch going down to the micron level.  
 
The advantages of Micro LEDs include high color saturation, wide viewing angle, short response time, high brightness, low power consumption, high efficiency and long life time. Power consumption of Micro LEDs is only 10% as to that of LCDs and 50% of that of OLEDs, so they are very energy efficient. 
 
Apple has long identified the potential of using Micro LEDs in small and mid-size displays and market expects Micro LED displays to debut on the next Apple Watch and further be used in iPhones and iPads. 
 
Back in May 2014, Apple acquired Micro LED display maker LuxVue Technology and gained access to several patented technologies. Apple also bought LuxVue’s and Qualcomm’s factories in the Longtan District of Taiwan to serve as a secret lab for developing Micro LED displays. Apple also recruited a team of local engineers to join its R&D team.
 
Apple Watch now dominates the global smartwatch market. Shipment in 2016 was 11.7 million units, accounting for 56% of the market. The number is expected to increase to 14.5 million units in 2017 but it is actually growing at a pace way slower than what the market originally expects. 
 
If Apple successfully introduces a Micro LED-based Apple Watch, Wu said it will definitely be a wow factor to lure consumers back, which may help increase Apple Watch sales.
 
Wu further estimated that Micro LED displays will appear on smartphones no sooner than 2022 since there are still many hurdles of mass production and cost is also an issue. On the other hand, the display of Apple Watch is relatively small so it is not that difficult for Apple to achieve mass production and reduce cost.  
 
Apart from small and mid-size displays, another possible application of Micro LEDs is ultimate big-screen displays. For instance, Sony already exhibited its 220’’ crystal LED display CLEDIS at CES 2017, which uses ultrafine LEDs mounted on the display surface.
 
Sony’s large-screen display is assembled seamlessly with 403mm x 453mm Micro LED modules, delivering ultra-high resolution of 8K x 2K. In addition, picture quality will not be affected by changing light conditions in an outdoor environment.  
 
Sony plans to begin mass production of CLEDIS display in 2017. If Sony and Apple can both launch Micro LED-based products in 2017 and 2018, this next generation of display technology will start to threaten the dominant positions of LCD and OLED displays. 
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