Apple’s transition to new display technologies has long been the subject of rumors. Is it unique this time?
Another round of rumors about new Apple display technologies has surfaced. They are not novel. Apple has emphasized display quality for many years, and many of its devices have some of the most color-accurate and crisp displays in their respective categories. Apple, on the other hand, is rarely the first company to adopt brand-new display technologies; it lagged far behind Android phones in delivering always-on displays, higher refresh rates, variable refresh rates, etc. HDR and ProMotion were only added to the MacBook Pro last year.
In the past week, we’ve heard three intriguing new rumors about Apple displays. Apple will begin using microLED displays beginning with the Apple Watch Ultra in 2019. The first MacBooks with OLED displays will be released as early as next year, and in a related development, touchscreen MacBooks will be released in 2025. Let’s take each of these in turn.
A microLED Apple Watch is a clever concept
The notion that Apple will switch to microLED displays is not novel. When rumors first circulated that an Apple Watch with a microLED display was imminent, I penned an article explaining microLED technology.
Indeed, we’ve been hearing about this at least since 2018! Sincerely, it’s a fantastic idea. Modern OLED displays are thicker, brighter, and less energy-efficient than microLED displays, which also have faster response times. It is possible to achieve a pixel density that rivals that of an e-ink. They appear almost painted on as if they were made of a remarkably high-quality e-ink.
The disadvantages of microLED are that they are expensive and challenging to manufacture in large sizes. Samsung has a microLED television, but there are only 100 of them and they cost $80,000 each.
Technology is advancing, making mass production simpler. So the Apple Watch Ultra is the ideal place for it, as it is small, expensive, and has limited space and power. Remember that the Apple Watch was the company’s first device to feature an OLED display.
Will Apple move forward? We’ve been here before, so it’s difficult to say, but micro-LEDs have never been closer to mass market adoption. The rumor also claims that Apple will manufacture the displays “in-house,” which is somewhat misleading. Apple would continue to work with a partner with expertise in the field, but would have greater control over the design, specifications, and manufacturing details than usual.
OLED MacBooks seem inevitable
Here’s yet another age-old expression. Recently, analyst Ming-chi Quo predicted that Apple would release a MacBook with an OLED display “at the earliest” by the end of 2024.
Apple Watch and iPhone feature OLED displays; Macs are the only Apple devices still using LEDs. Now that OLED displays are more affordable in larger sizes and can outperform the display on the current MacBook Pro in terms of brightness, contrast, and color gamut while consuming the same amount of power, this is more of a “when” question than an “if” question.
These rumors have circulated for several years, especially because some high-end Windows laptops feature OLED displays. It seems inevitable that it will occur; the only question is when.
Touchscreen MacBooks would be a significant change
Mark Gurman of Bloomberg predicts that by 2025, Apple will release a MacBook with not only an OLED display but also an OLED touchscreen. This would be a complete reversal of Apple’s previous statements on the subject. Steve Jobs criticized the concept, stating that “your arms want to fall off” after a while of touching a computer’s display.
However, we have entered a new Mac era. With Apple silicon, the chips are essentially identical to those found in iPhones and iPads, but they are larger. Macs containing Apple chips can run iPhone and iPad applications (many, but not all, anyway). The majority of the time, it is not a pleasant experience because apps for those devices are touch-first and macOS is pointer-driven.
This one seems less certain. Apple has taken a cautious approach to touch control on MacBooks with the Touch Bar, which is absent from the most recent MacBook Pros. The company’s ultimate decision regarding the touch-capability of future MacBooks will likely hinge on software rather than hardware. OLED displays seem inevitable, but the ability to run iPad and iPhone apps more easily on your Mac does not seem sufficient to justify a touchscreen.
To make touch-capable MacBooks truly worthwhile, Apple will need to make substantial changes to macOS and its native applications, as well as provide excellent developer tools. I do not doubt that Apple is currently conducting such experiments, and the ultimate decision regarding whether or not to adopt touchscreens will depend on the success of their development and design efforts.