Apple is planning to overhaul the display technologies found on its most popular lines of gadgets, according to a series of leaks over the past few days and insights from people familiar with these matters.
The big question is: when will it happen?
Apple announced new MacBook Pro models in January 2023, but these did not bring any display upgrades. The 16-inch and 14-inch versions have a Liquid Retina XDR display, a beautiful screen capable of searing 1,000-nit brightness and up to 1,000,000:1 contrast, according to Apple’s own specs anyway.
These are miniLED screens, but there’s even more advanced tech coming to Apple’s gadgets. Want to know more?
MicroLED is coming to Apple Watch and iPhone
Apple plans to adopt microLED technology in a new version of the Apple Watch Ultra. This is a true next-generation display type currently found in the world’s fanciest TVs.
MicroLED offers truly extreme levels of peak brightness, matched with the incredible contrast of OLED, because each pixel provides its own light source.
This is of particular interest to Apple Watch owners because microLED will also reduce power consumption and hopefully make Apple smartwatches last much longer off a single recharge than they currently do. The one-and-a-bit-days of battery life on the Apple Watch Series 8 soon gets annoying. microLED may fix that.
We should see the first Apple devices — namely the Watch Ultra — using this technology by the end of 2024, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.
However, this idea is also widely expected to branch out to iPhones, with the Pro models the most likely candidates for the microLED treatment.
“Although they are planning to introduce it on the Apple Watch first, I believe this [microLED] could come to the iPad and the Mac,” said Francisco Jeronimo, vice president of data analyst company IDC Europe.
Will Apple start making its own screens?
At present, Apple does not make its own screens. China’s BOE or either Samsung or LG from Korea create the OLED displays for iPhones. Meanwhile, LG Display makes a lot of the screens that go into MacBooks, and it even produced the panel in the 2022 Apple Studio Display.
For the Apple gadget fan, upcoming microLED devices mean higher brightness with less of a battery-life penalty, but there’s more to it. These displays will actually be manufactured by Apple.
By taking control of this process from start to finish, Apple gets far more control over its own products. You might compare this to the way Apple phones use its own Apple A-series processors, which evolved into the potent M1 and M2 series laptop processors seen in MacBooks. These chips are actually manufactured by Taiwan’s TSMC but Apple can map them far more tightly to its own software and other hardware.
“Apple has been marketing their Retina Display as key to the experience of a Mac. The microLED will go one step further in terms of contrast, brightness, eye comfort, energy efficiency, and longer lifespan”, explains Francisco Jeronimo. The downside being that it will also, almost inevitably, mean price hikes.
Will Apple make touchscreen laptops?
The idea of microLED is not the only innovation on the horizon. There’s more to come – and some of these changes could arrive before microLED emerges.
The touchscreen laptop has always been the gadget that Apple would never create. In 2010, Steve Jobs said, “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives a great demo but, after a short period, you start to fatigue and, after an extended period, your arm wants to fall off. It doesn’t work, it’s ergonomically terrible.” And that’s before you notice all the fingerprints.
Apple tried to add touch features to its laptops with the Touch Bar in 2016, but this was contentious. And it was actually removed from MacBook Pro models in 2021, and now is only available in the 13-inch version.
So what’s changed on touch? Well, the firm already supports iPad and iPhone apps on Macs that use Apple chips. Today’s MacBooks can run apps that were designed exclusively for touchscreen use and it is possible this could be the key that finally opens the door to touchscreen Macs. Yes, a touchscreen MacBook will be fiddly. But the awkwardness is already right there in today’s MacBook laptops.
In reality, though, touchscreen computers remain a niche product on Windows and Chrome OS. In 2022, global sales represented just 14.3 per cent of the total notebook category, according to IDC – and that was a decline from the previous year. It’s also likely that many people bought these in spite of (rather than because of) the touchscreen features.
“Today, there’s no major benefit for users to having a touch notebook,” says Jeronimo. “But Apple disrupted the market with a unique touch experience on the iPad. It is probably time to do the same on the Mac.”
Only time will tell whether this ever happens.
Will Apple make MacBooks and iPads with OLED screens?
If Apple does offer touchscreens, these most likely won’t be part of a swanky new microLED screen but a more familiar OLED one. Apple is reportedly due to upgrade its premium iPads and MacBooks with this popular screen tech, which is currently found in TVs and iPhone displays. This could potentially happen when a new MacBook Pro line is finally confirmed, potentially in June, but it also might well slip to the next version. The emphasis at the moment is, rightly, more about affordability than luxury.
According to analyst Ross Young, cited by MacRumors, Apple plans to launch 11.1-inch and 13-inch iPad Pro tablets with OLED screens in the first quarter of 2024. Right now, you can buy an immensely bright mini-LED iPad Pro 12.9 or a regular old 11-inch iPad Pro with a 120Hz screen, so this move would see the Pro tablets get closer together.
It also seems possible that we’ll see tablet-sized OLED displays reach the 1,600 nit peak brightness achieved by the iPad Pro 12.9’s mini-LED panel. After all, you wouldn’t expect to see Apple introduce a new screen tech that could be perceived as a downgrade.
What about everyone else?
Apple is far from the only firm that is pushing the envelope with what’s possible in mobile-device screens. For instance, Samsung is making microLED screens for its Galaxy wearables this year, at least according to SamMobile.
The firm also showed a microLED TV at the CES expo way back in 2018. This was a 146-inch monster called The Wall. Obviously, that wasn’t the kind of TV that people would actually buy. However, Samsung said at CES 2023 that it does plan to release microLED sets ranging from 50 inches all the way to 140 inches later this year. Stay tuned, friend.
What’s abundantly clear is that the way that screens work is about to evolve. The first wave of microLED gadgets will arrive this year and it already feels like the future.