We’ve been hearing more and more about new LCD display technologies and how Apple plans to adopt them in its devices this year. Follow along for an explainer on what mini-LED display tech is, why Apple is moving to it with iPad and MacBook Pro soon, and what to expect from Apple’s 2021 plans.
LED-backlit LCD displays replaced CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent) ones over the last decade as they offer a number of advantages across many aspects including reliability, lifespan, wider color gamut, smaller physical size, power efficiency, dimming capabilities, and more.
While OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays have become the current choice for many flagship smartphones and smartwatches like the iPhone 11 Pro and 12 lineup and Apple Watch, mini-LED and micro-LED are set to bring further improvements to displays.
What is mini-LED display tech?
Traditional LED-backlit displays will have anywhere from several dozen to several hundred LEDs. As the name suggests, mini-LED displays make use of miniaturized backlighting and can feature over a thousand full array local dimming (FALD) zones.
Advantages of mini-LED:
- Higher contrast ratio
- Higher brightness
- Deeper blacks
- Less prone to burn-in than OLED
- Uses inorganic Gallium nitride (GaN), won’t degrade over time like OLED
So what are micro-LEDs? They are an order of magnitude smaller than the mini variant and are as tiny as 1/100th the size of a traditional LED backlight in an LCD display. They go further with the benefits that mini-LED has over standard LED-powered LCD displays and can provide over 30x greater brightness compared to OLED.
The tricky part about manufacturing micro-LED displays at a high quality is you’re dedicating an LED for each pixel of a display. Semiconductor Engineering explains:
MicroLED is where you shrink them down to the scale of tens of microns. You place one in each pixel. It’s so much smaller and harder to do. It’s harder to physically put them where you want them to be. It’s also harder to make the LEDs themselves so that they perform well.
Apple’s plans for iPad and MacBooks
It makes sense then that the two major holdups for these new display technologies are cost and manufacturing at scale, and that Apple is looking to do mini-LED with its larger portable devices first and implement micro-LED with Apple Watch to start.
All the way back in 2019, Kuo predicted we could see Apple’s iPad Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro are expected to see the switch to mini-LED as soon as Q4 2020. That didn’t come to pass, but reports are stacking up that the time is soon. More recent reports from TrendForce and Digitimes predict the next 12.9-inch iPad Pro getting mini-LED in Q1 2021.
And just yesterday, Macotakara published a report that the new large iPad Pro with mini-LED will launch in March this year with a slightly thicker body to accommodate the new display tech.
Meanwhile, the new 14- and 16-inch M1 MacBook Pro models we’re expecting are rumored to include the switch to mini-LED too. Those should be released this year sometime.
When it comes to micro-LED, we haven’t been hearing near as much about that shift. Apple Watch 6/SE didn’t adopt the tech last year (after a report that it would), but it could be that Apple Watch Series 7 is the first to debut micro-LED in the fall.
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