Apple XR Device: Korean Group Tests a 3000ppi MicroOLED Display
The Korean electronic industry news publication The Elec is reporting that Apple has requested a so-called fine metal mask (FMM) for a potential VR display application from the Korean chips manufacturer APS holdings.
According to the publication, Apple wanted the FMM to meet the specification, irrespective of their productivity. The iPhone maker is likely looking at testing the FMM sample to determine if it can be applied to production before forming a more concrete plant for the development of its VR device.
The fine metal mask (FMM) is used in depositing the red, green and blue organic materials in the production of OLED panels.
Currently, FMM is used in the production of smartphone OLED panels which are manufactured from Gen 6 (1500×1850) substrates.
The wet etching technique is used to make the holes in the FMM through which the organic matter is deposited. This technique yields up to 600ppi with the current state of the technology. Apple has requested a resolution of 3000ppi (pixels per inch) according to The Elec report.
It is highly probable that Apple is looking for a laser patterning FMM as laser drilling of the holes makes the 3000ppi more realizable.
The FMMS are needed for the production of LED panels. Korea-based APS Holdings has been working on laser patterning FMM for use in MicroOLED panels. The company offers a new and laser-based process for the production of FMMs that could enable the development of MicroOLED displays which have very high resolutions. The report states that Apple is aiming for a pixel density of 3000ppi and has requested a corresponding FMM test sample irrespective of whether APS holdings is currently in a position to manufacture such displays in series.
MicroOLED panels leverage a silicon substrate instead of glass like in the conventional OLED panels. This enables the microOLED panels to deliver a more precise and higher resolution.
The pixel sizes in the OLED panels that are used in the TVs and smartphones vary from 40 micrometers to 300 micrometers. The pixel sizes in the MicroOLED displays range from 4 micrometers to 20 micrometers. MicroOLED displays also have a response time in microseconds and are, thus, more likely to be deployed in augmented reality and virtual reality applications.
APS Holdings is already building a high-resolution MicroOLED display for AR headsets under an initiative of the South Korean government. In May this year, the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy chose APS Holdings to build a MicroOLED display technology suitable for high luminance and high-resolution AR applications. This national project aims to develop an Augmented Reality glass that has a 4000ppi resolution by 2024. Should APS Holdings receive a manufacturing contract from the Apple, the company could accelerate the development of the technology. Apple is also working with Sony and TSMC on MicroOLED displays.
If Apple’s similar FMM test which targets 3000ppi goes according to plan, APS Holdings is likely to see a considerable expansion of its laser patterning FMM business. However, the company still needs to build the productivity in the production of FMMs.
Current AR and VR devices rely on white OLED panels which have color filters on top of a silicon substrate. This color filter regulates how high its brightness can go.
APS Holdings has in the past stated that RGB OLED is the future of displays a sit doesn’t require color filters. However, the applications of these panels have been limited due to the difficulty in producing an FMM capable of realizing a high resolution.
Apple Testing the Limits of Display Technology
With its request to APS Holdings, Apple is apparently testing the limits to determine what is technically feasible with the company’s new laser process. Should the technology prove suitable for production, the company says it could subsequently invest in mass production.
Is MicroOLED the Future of AR and VR Displays?
Unlike LC and conventional OLED displays. MicroOLED displays are developed from wafers. This results in displays that are extremely thin, light, bright and energy-saving. All of these properties are crucial to the realization of ultra-slim VR and AR devices.
However, MicroOLED display technology still has to surmount certain hurdles in their development and production and should only allow for a wide field of view in VR headsets when used in combination with new types of lenses since the displays are smaller than the LC (Liquid Crystal) and OLED screens.
When Could Apple’s XR Glasses Appear?
According to insider reports, Apple currently has two devices in the development. These include slim AR glasses for everyday use which are still years away from market launch. The company is also working on conventional VR glasses with AR mode which could hit the market as early as in 2022 and will cost anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000. It was also stated recently that the market launch for Apple’s conventional VR headsets could be postponed to 2023 and that these XR devices could leverage an external player for optimal performance. An iPhone, iPad or an iMac could be suitable candidates for this, providing the extra computing power.
On top of its current national project to build FMM for Gen 6 OLED panels, APS Holdings is also aiming to build an FMM for half Gen 6 substrate that has a 600ppi resolution. The South Korean technology company is also working on a mechanism for using invar in the manufacture of FMM.
At the moment, Japanese tech company Dai Nippon Printing dominates the production and supply of Gen 6 FMM. The Japanese firm leverages the wet etching technique in their production and supply of FMMs to LG Display and Samsung Display.