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Apple Just Resolved Tim Cook's Beef With OLED

By Steve Symington - Dec 6, 2013 at 10:00AM

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Tim Cook has made no secret that he's critical of OLED display technology, but that may all be about to change.

Brace yourselves, Universal Display (OLED 1.07%) investors, because Apple (AAPL 1.62%) just took another big step in your direction.

Remember, last month it came to light that Apple and LG Display (LPL -0.36%) 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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Stocks Mentioned

Apple Inc. Stock Quote
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