Supply chain report affirms 12.9-inch iPad Pro with miniLED screen

A supply chain report today supports earlier predictions that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with miniLED screen will be the first Apple product with the latest backlighting tech.

There are, however, conflicting timings, with noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expecting the new device in Q4 of this year, and today’s report suggesting instead it will be Q1 next year …

MiniLED screens use the same IPS-LCD panels Apple uses for its existing iPads and MacBooks, but with a greatly improved backlighting system.

By using very many more smaller LEDs for backlighting, it provides greater control over small sections of the screen. This offers many of the same benefits as OLED: higher contrast ratio, increased brightness, deeper blacks, and better power efficiency. But an LCD screen with miniLED backlighting is actually better than OLED in a couple of respects: it’s less prone to burn-in and has a longer life.

Digitimes carries a report on a company believed to be supplying chips for the hi-tech backlighting system.

Apple is expected to launch 12.9-inch mini LED-backlit iPad Pro in early 2021, with each tablet to use over 10,000 mini LEDs solely supplied by Epistar, the sources said. Epistar is ready to start production of mini LEDs by modifying its blue-light LED chipmaking equipment for producing such mini LEDs in third-quarter 2020, the sources noted.

The report says that Apple is working to bring two additional suppliers on board.

Osram Opto Semiconductors is expected to supply backlight-use mini LED for high-end MacBook in second-half 2021, becoming Apple’s second supplier of such chips next to Taiwan-based Epistar, according to industry sources […]

Apple will […] seek additional suppliers of mini LEDs to secure stable supply, the sources said. As a supplier of backlight-use LEDs for Apple Watch and iPhone, Osram Opto is expected to become another supplier of MacBook-use mini LEDs, and set up initial monthly production capacity of 100 million mini LEDs at its plant in Malaysia, the sources indicated.

China-based Sanan Optoelectronics’s mini LEDs are also being validated by Apple, the sources said.

This aligns with a July report also stating that we’d see a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with miniLED screen in Q1 2021.

Most of today’s report is consistent with two recent Kuo investment notes. On September 21, the analyst said that Apple was introducing a second supplier, which would significantly reduce Apple’s costs and see faster rollout of the new display tech.

It had previously been expected that miniLED would be reserved for flagship iPads and MacBooks, launching first in the final quarter of this year – potentially including the first Apple Silicon Macs – and accounting for just 10-20% of 2021 sales.

Kuo’s latest investment note suggests that some 30-40% of iPads, and 20-30% of MacBooks, will now use miniLED backlighting. This will bring the technology to a wider range of models.

A follow-up note said that Apple would debut the new tech in an iPad Pro with miniLED backlighting. Kuo didn’t specifically call out the 12.9-inch model, but that is the general expectation, and today’s report backs that prediction – only the timings differ.

It’s entirely possible that the exact timing remains uncertain at this stage as Apple seeks to prioritize production of the delayed iPhone 12 models, so either Q4 this year or Q1 next year would seem plausible at this point.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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