July 22, 2016: The immense potential of micro LEDs has been able to attract a number of big consumer electronic firms to invest in the technology, with Sony and Apple leading the forefront. However, both these companies have diverged in micro-LED display expansions. While, Sony is engaged in creating big micro-LED displays, Apple is making small displays. Have a look at the significant details.
Micro-LED competition between Sony and Apple
Sony came up with crystal LED displays in 2012, pioneering micro-LED applications in consumer electronics. The micro-LED TV exterior is comparable to the average LED display, but was the most costly and superior display technology at the time of its release. After igniting market awareness, Sony’s newest launch did not come out till four years later. The new display pursues the crystal series naming procedure, but became the more complicated Crystal LED Integrated Structure (CLEDIS), the corporation is no longer offering prototypes, but plans to mass produce the new TVs in the near future.
In contradiction to Sony’s large micro-LED display market, Apple concentrates on small screen devices. Following the acquisition of LuxVue in 2014, market gossips hinted micro-LED display applications in iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches. However, micro-LEDs properties, Luxvue’s patents, and Apple’s product strategies advocate wearables will be the primary generation application. It is being said that Apple’s first micro-LED wearable gadgets might enter the market by 2017.
Understanding micro-LED technology
The word, micro-LED appeared as early as 2000, when Cree applied for the patent “Micro-led arrays with enhanced light extraction”. Nonetheless, micro-LED is still solely academic. Research institutes in academia have continued to invest in micro-LED research, such as Illinois University, Strathclyde University and Texas Tech University. In Asia universities including Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Taiwanese universities National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) and National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) have all declared their research results, and some of the research teams entered the industry through spin-offs, commercialization of products or joining companies.
Professor John Rogers from University of Illinois is one of the leading figures in the micro-LED field, the research team’s novel transfer printing technology was spin-out to establish Smprius in 2006. By 2013, he founded X-celeprint and authorized micro-transfer-printing technology (µTP) to the company. Strathclyde University micro-LED research team was also spun-off into mLED in 2010, prioritizing micro-LED display applications for close range viewing.
Sony and Apple’s micro-LED strategies
Although both Apple and Sony implemented totally different strategies when commercializing products, both the firms need to beat Pixel Per Inch (PPI) and pixel volume challenges. There is an elevated relation between PPI and LED size (the bigger the PPI the smaller the LED), pixels also openly impacts the end product yield rates. Trimness of LEDs to micron size, exact transfer of the micro-LEDs onto backlight devices, tiny driver sizes, and mass transfer of huge number of small LEDs obviously augments the technology threshold.
Sony was able to rapidly commercialize its products since it selected a large display with relatively low PPI, such as 55” TVs with 1080 pixel resolution that took into consideration technology restrictions. A crystal LED display contains 40 PPI, the hypothetical LED size can reach some hundred microns, which guarantees that both the LED chip and SMD LED package are attainable. The complexity is bonding 6.22 million LEDs on a FHD TV, which the technology back in 2012 wasn’t able to achieve.
Sony and Apple are forging ahead in micro-LED display market
Therefore, the company made significant alterations in its second generation CLEDIS indoor LED displays. Sony reduced its PPI to 15, and after four years of making micro-LEDs it defeated size issues. CLEDIS light emitting surface (LES) takes up less than 1% of space in the panel, and a single LED is about 55 microns (μm) in size. The company’s approach is extremely practical, it chose a “connective module” idea, where a single panel uses about 345,600 micro-LEDs, which is below 6% of the 6.22 million LEDs in its previous generation product.
On the other hand, Apple is directly aiming wearable devices with a PPI of 200-300 PPI, where 55μm sized micro-LEDs are unsuitable. Micro-LED drift in wearables is plummeting to below 20μm, making wearables extremely available. Another highlight and benefit of wearables is its small displays. Fewer pixels are required for small displays for the same PPI applications, for instance a 38 mm Apple Watch might have a PPI of 3 million, but has in total 92,480 pixels. If you calculate that into RGB LEDs it is 277,440 pixels, less than a single Sony CLEDIS module.
The potentialities of micro-LED display are immense. However, it has to carefully choose between the limitations of PPI and pixels. Displays and wearables both have high brightness demands, at the same time wearables can profit from micro-LED’s energy saving features. This may as well solve the pain-point of low battery stamina in several wearable devices. Furthermore, pixels for the two types of applications employs a single set are moderately low. Once the shortcomings are met, both Apple and Sony will ride high in micro-LED display market, even though, the approaches of the two companies are entirely different from each other.