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Apple begins work on display tech in Taiwan lab

Posted: 23 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple  Qualcomm  MEMS  Mirasol  AMOLED 

Apple has begun work on display technologies in a small-scale production facility in Longtan near Taipei, Taiwan, according to a Bloomberg report. The company moved into the facility in April 2015 and has at least 50 staff employed there on developing display technology for mobile devices including iPads and iPhones, the report indicated.

The facility had previously been occupied by Qualcomm Panel Manufacturing Ltd and was one of the places where Qualcomm tried to develop its Mirasol, moving-MEMS display.

However, the Mirasol display was not a success because, although it was non-volatile and therefore energy efficient and reflective and therefore daylight readable, it was less vivid than backlight LCD or OLED displays.

Triptych 5.9in AMOLED display

Triptych 5.9in AMOLED display. Source: Japanese research institute Semiconductor Energy Laboratory

Apple presently uses back-lit LCDs in its equipment supplied by such companies as Sharp, Samsung and Japan Display but is expected to move towards OLED displays, a move already taken by Samsung in mobile devices and by TV makers. Samsung has introduced flexible OLED screens and foldable and rollable screens are considered a next development.

OLED envy?

Apple could be using the facility at Longtan to develop its own OLED manufacturing processes for displays that it could then outsource to local Taiwan manufacturing companies such as AU Optronics and Innolux Corp. This would reduce its dependence on companies such as Samsung who might otherwise control and limit Apple's access to the latest technologies.

Apple is increasingly pulling component and subsystem engineering in-house as evidenced by the news it has bought a small-volume 200mm wafer fab in Silicon Valley.

It is unlikely that Apple has done more than taken over a building previously occupied by Qualcomm although Qualcomm has previously said it would seek licensees for its Mirasol technology.

Why did Apple buy Maxim's fab?
Noting that Maxim's fab was designed for mixed signal and power RF technologies, Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research, said Apple will likely use it to prototype new sensors, probably "using some technology it already owns."

Mirasol dates back to before 2004 when Qualcomm paid $170 million for startup company Iridigm Display Corp., which originally developed the technology. Back in 2012 the company pulled back from using its Mirasol display and said it would seek licensees for the technology. But with no further announcements it seemed that Mirasol would join a number of other display technologies as an engineering curiosity but commercial failure.

A Mirasol display was used in the Toq, a proof-of-concept smartwatch that Qualcomm released in December 2013, but this smartwatch was itself not a conspicuous success.

- Peter Clarke
  EE Times Europe

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