A micro-LED Apple Watch Ultra has been variously predicted to launch in 2024, 2025, and 2026 – but a new report today suggests that it may slip to 2027, or even later.
The problem is said to be Apple’s hesitation over the high cost of the micro-LED screen, which suppliers have so far been unable to reduce to a more palatable level …
The slow road to micro-LED
After LCD with conventional backlighting, LCD with mini-LED backlighting, and OLED, the next generation of display tech set to be adopted by Apple is expected to be micro-LED.
Compared to OLED, micro-LED will provide improved brightness, color accuracy, longevity, and power efficiency. In particular, it doesn’t suffer the same burn-in problem as OLED.
Micro-LED Apple Watch Ultra timing
At one point, Nikkei suggested Apple could make the switch in 2018!
Fast-forward to a year or so, and notable sources were suggesting that the first Apple Watch Ultra to be upgraded from OLED to micro-LED would be the 2024 model. Both analyst Jeff Pu, and Bloomberg were expecting the switch to happen in late 2024.
Within a few months, however, display analyst Ross Young suggested that the transition to the latest tech would be pushed back to “2025 at the earliest.”
By the summer of last year, Trendforce said that low yield rates in test production meant that the launch would be further delayed, to 2026.
The same source reiterated this just a couple of months ago, indicating that the high production cost would result in a significant price bump.
The Elec now points to 2027 or later
The Elec today paints an even more pessimistic picture, suggesting that it would be tough for Apple to hit a target date of 2026, and that the micro-LED Apple Watch Ultra may not launch until 2027, or even later.
The Apple Watch with micro LEDs is expected to be hard to achieve in 2026. Apple is working on a project to apply micro-LEDs, but it hasn’t even been able to finalize the component supply chain configuration to create micro-LEDs for Apple Watches. For now, the 2027 release is also uncertain.
It’s estimated that Apple currently pays around $40 per display for the Ultra. An earlier report had suggested that this was likely to increase to $115-120, but The Elec says this is now looking more like $150. Given the company’s usual markup, and premium for new display tech, that might push the retail price to a level where it would be a tough sell.
This is a familiar story in tech. New generations of technology are harder to make than existing ones, so early production tests result in low yield rates (the percentage of manufactured units which pass quality control). That either makes volume production impractical, or pushes costs up substantially.
But some tech developments are particularly slow-burns, and micro-LED definitely falls into this category: Apple has been working on the technology for more than a decade. The company accelerated this work by acquiring micro-LED specialist LuxVue in 2014, with reported challenges in 2017.
Given this lengthy and challenging history, it’s not surprising that nobody really knows when it will reach the point of being practical to adopt in a volume product – even a relatively niche one like the Apple Watch Ultra.
Ultimately, Apple will have to make a call on how much the market will bear, and from that calculate when a launch becomes financially viable.
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