Plan likely delayed to after 2025
Apple has begun talks with its South Korean panel suppliers on applying OLED panels to its MacBook line, TheElec has learned.
The iPhone maker has initially planned to launch its first MacBook with an OLED panel in 2025 but this plan is likely to be postponed, people familiar with the matter said.
Apple has been discussing applying OLED panels to its iPad lineup with the South Korean companies as well. The tablets sporting OLED panels is expected to launch in late-2023 or 2024.
The biggest obstacle for Cupertino in applying OLED has been the cost. It is attempting to applying a two stack tandem structure on the panel it procures from Samsung and LG.
The structure stacks two layers of red, green and blue emission layers, which doubles luminance and extends the panel’s life span. It also needs thin-film transistor (TFT) technology that acts as switches for the pixels.
This technology is considered needed as tablets and PCs have a longer life compared to smartphones.
Current OLED panels in smartphones have a single stack structure where there is only one emission layer of red, green and blue.
Doubling the emission layer doubles material costs. The TFT will also need to support fast electron movement. This means low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) will be applied but this technology requires 15 to 16 masks during production, which further increases costs.
For low-temperature polycrystalline silicon (LTPS), 11 masks are used, while conventional oxide TFT uses around 7 masks.
Apple is planning to apply two stack tandem LTPO TFT on its first OLED iPads that will come in 12.9-inch and 11-inch sizes.
However, the company is planning to use oxide TFT instead of TFT to for other IT products after the first OLED iPads that will sport OLED panels to save cost as they will require fewer masks during production.
Using oxide TFT will save costs, but for the panel to support high resolution, protection circuits will be needed to be added on the module. This can be another cost problem and the panel may be more prone to overheat.
Apple is still mulling which option to choose for the OLED panels it will apply to MacBook and other of its IT products besides smartphones and tablets, the people said.
Samsung Display is currently supplying LTPO TFT OLED panels for iPhone 13 Pro models, while LG Display supplies LTPO TFT OLED panels for Apple Watch and is also planning to supply them for iPhones next year.
The final decision Apple makes for its OLED panel roadmap will affect where Samsung Display and LG Display decides to spend next in terms of facilities.
Samsung Display currently manufactures OLED panels for tablets and notebooks at its A2 line, which uses a single tack structure and LTPS TFT.
If Apple decides to use oxide or LTPO TFT or two tack tandem on its OLED panels for its IT products, Samsung Display will need to build a new line to accommodate this.
LG Display can manufacture OLED panels for tablets and PCs but its capacity is currently very small.
However, it is developing the OLED panels Apple plans to use on its 12.9-inch and 11-inch OLED iPads.
Samsung Display is also taking part in a similar project with Cupertino to develop the panels. Its previous project with Apple to develop a 10.86-inch OLED iPad was canceled.