Apple Just Resolved Tim Cook's Beef With OLED

Brace yourselves, Universal Display (NASDAQ: OLED  ) investors, because Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) just took another big step in your direction.

Remember, last month it came to light that Apple and LG Display (NYSE: LPL  ) were close to signing a supply agreement for small, flexible OLED screens, presumably for use in an iWatch-type device to be launched in late 2014.

Now, the folks over at Patently Apple just highlighted a newly published patent application outlining Apple's invention of OLED displays with integrated thermal sensors.

But first, some background...
Before we tackle what this means, does anyone remember Apple CEO Tim Cook's curious stance on OLED back in February?

Specifically, that's when shares of Universal Display plunged after Cook absolutely bashed the OLED specialist's flagship phosphorescent display technology.

Sure, you could argue Cook was a teensy bit biased, especially considering archrival Samsung has long used OLED displays as a differentiating factor for its competing Galaxy devices.

And Cook pulled no punches at the time, railing that -- at least compared with Apple's own Retina displays -- OLED color saturation is "awful." What's more, he asserted, "If you ever buy anything online and really want to know what the color is, as many people do, you should really think twice before you depend on the color from an OLED display."

Even so, I found it curious at the time that Apple had just quietly hired a prominent OLED specialist away from LG Display -- a seemingly contradictory move to Cook's stance against the versatile technology.

Cook foreshadowed this moment
Then in April, Cook once again piqued my interest with the following comments during the Q&A portion of Apple's fiscal second-quarter conference call:

Some customers value large screen size; others value also other factors such as resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility with apps and many things. Our competitors had made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger-display iPhone while these trade-offs exist.

As a result, and noting some would argue OLED already held the advantage in a number of the above categories, I couldn't help but wonder whether Cook was indirectly hinting at improvements in the works with Apple's pending implementation of OLEDs in its devices.

Heck, I even wrote at the time, "While the iPhone's LCD Retina display may currently have the edge [with] accurate color reproduction, brightness, and white balance, I can't imagine Apple -- with all its vast resources -- would find it that difficult to make the necessary tweaks to an OLED screen."

What this Apple patent means
And that's where Apple's latest patent comes in.

So what are the "integrated thermal sensors" all about? In short, Apple realized OLED pixels operating at higher temperatures can emit slightly different light from pixels operating at low temperatures. This, in turn, can result in inconsistent colors -- and, yes, "awful" color saturation -- for displays with non-uniform temperature gradients.

But wait, you say, aren't OLED displays supposed to be cool to the touch? Well... yes. But that doesn't eliminate changes in ambient environmental temperatures (like partial sunlight, for example) or heat generated by the components underlying the OLED display.

As a result, Apple's integrated thermal sensors should be able to dynamically adjust the light output of each OLED, which in effect resolves Tim Cook's beef with the technology.

With the most significant of the aforementioned "trade-offs" eliminated, Apple would then be free to take advantage of all the compelling design possibilities enabled by the implementation of OLED displays, which can be made to be flexible, transparent, and nearly unbreakable.

That's why I remain convinced that shareholders of both Apple and Universal Display stand to be handsomely rewarded as the two companies usher in a new era of electronic displays.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 06, 2013, at 10:44 AM, justinr wrote:

    With LG and AUO poised to sign long term agreements with Universal Display, it seems the future is bright for this company.

    Plus Abrahamson said future long term contract would not get as good a deal as Samsung did by being the first to do so.

    Foolishly bullish.

  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2013, at 10:54 AM, melegross wrote:

    I'd love to figure out what advantages AMOLEDs have at this point, other than the depth of black? There really aren't any.

    Right now, they use more power than the latest LCDs with LED backlights.

    Color quality IS awful. If you like orange faces, then AMOLED is for you!

    They are dim, hardly usable outdoors at all, despite advocates assertions otherwise. The brightest can barely get much past 350 nits, whereas LCDs go to 650 and much higher, if color isn't as important.

    Longevity is less with AMOLED right now as well.

    The reason why thermal sensors is important is more tan just for accurate color. A major problem with all OLEDs, but particularly organic ones is that lifetime is temperature dependent. The hotter they run, the shorter the lifetime.

    So in order to keep the internal temperature down, they run them dimly. There's a lifetime related part to this. If the temp rises above the maximum the display can sustain, it will result in a rapid burnout. So they need to be run well below that maximum.

    But with thermal sensors in place, it's possible the display can be run at a higher voltage, resulting in more brightness.

    Ther is a lot more to consider, but this should be enough to give some ideas why Apple hasn't been too excited with AMOLEDs as yet.

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