TSMC HQSource: TSMC

What you need to know

  • TSMC is now rumored to be working on micro OLED displays for Apple's AR headset.
  • The company is also working on micro-LED displays for Apple as well.

As reported by Nikkei Asia, Apple has partnered with TSMC to develop micro OLED displays at the chipmaker's facility in Taiwan. Sources familiar with the matter say that the displays being worked on are planned to be used on Apple's upcoming augmented reality devices.

Apple is collaborating with its longtime chip supplier TSMC because micro OLED displays are not built on glass substrates like the conventional LCD screens in smartphones and TVs, or OLED displays used in high-end smartphones. Instead, these new displays are built directly onto wafers -- the substrates that semiconductors are fabricated on -- allowing for displays that are far thinner and smaller and use less power, making them more suitable for use in wearable AR devices, according to sources familiar with the projects.

The micro OLED project is now at the trial production stage, sources said, and it will take several years to achieve mass production. The displays under development are less than 1 inch in size.

"Panel players are good at making screens bigger and bigger, but when it comes to thin and light devices like AR glasses, you need a very small screen," said a source who has direct information on the micro OLED R&D project. "Apple is partnering with TSMC to develop the technology because the chipmaker's expertise is making things ultra-small and good, while Apple is also leveraging panel experts' know-how on display technologies."

According to one source, those who have been hired to work on the project sign a very strict non-disclosure agreement.

Apple has hired dozens of veterans from Taiwanese display maker AU Optoelectronics to work on the micro OLED project, one of the sources familiar with the situation said, as well as display experts from Japan and elsewhere. Anyone who signs up to work on the program must sign a strict non-disclosure agreement that forbids them from even meeting with friends or acquaintances working in the tech industry, the source added.

Eric Chiou, a display analyst at TrendForce, says that since the technology is in its early stages of development "it is not likely Apple could immediately introduce its self-developed technology into its first AR products in one to two years."