Apple has long had some of the best displays on the market, but recently it’s been somewhat behind the curve. While other manufacturers had long moved onto OLED technology with perfect blacks, Apple only started using them on its smartphones in the past few years, and has stuck to old-school LCDs on its laptops and tablets.
A new report from reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via MacRumors) suggests Apple is planning a big leap in image quality with some of its devices next year, although it still won’t adopt OLED on the iPad and MacBook. Instead, Kuo says the company is opting for Mini LED on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 16-inch Macbook Pro. This technology that brings some of the benefits of OLED to LCD panels without the prohibitive cost or potential burn-in associated with the former.
To be clear, we’re talking about Mini LED here, not Micro LED. You might’ve heard of the latter before, which is essentially billed as a replacement for OLED, especially for large displays. Like OLED, each Micro LED pixel emits its own light, allowing for pure blacks and accurate colors. But while its difficult to manufacturer large OLED panels, Micro LED promises bigger, brighter screens, with less burn-in.
MiniLED screens, on the other hand, are similar to regular LCD displays in that they instead shine a backlight through pixels, which act as filters to display specific colors. The main benefit of Mini-LED is that you can stuff a lot more LEDs into a display than on a typical panel. This allows you to use local dimming – turning off or dimming the LEDs in certain areas – for greater contrast.
This feature is often present in high-end TVs, but practically unheard of for laptops and tablets (other than OLED panels, in which each pixel is basically its own backlight). That’s because there’s only so much room for backlighting on a portable device. Mini LEDs are far smaller than typical LEDs though, meaning local dimming could soon be a reality on laptops and tablets.
Kuo estimates that the 2020 12.9-inch iPad and 16-inch MacBook Pro will use as many as 10,000 Mini LEDs – each smaller than 200 microns – giving them ample flexibility for local dimming and high contrast. LG and GIS are said to be Apple‘s primary suppliers.
Point is, Micro LED could provide most of the important benefits of OLED with little of the downsides. We’ll have to wait and see if the rumor pans out.