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Why Did Apple Inc Buy This Micro-LED Tech Startup?

By Alvaro Campos - May 13, 2014 at 8:05PM

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Discover the possible reasons behind Apple's acquisition of LuxVue, an innovator of low-power micro-LED electronic displays.

Apple (AAPL 0.53%) has been acquiring a variety of tech companies for the last year, remaining secretive about its plans, yet hinting at possible strategies. Recently, CEO Tim Cook revealed that Apple has acquired 24 companies in the last 18 months. Now, after overall successful FQ2 results, the company has acquired LuxVue, a start-up that produces low-power micro-LED electronic displays. Although the exact purpose of the acquisition is not yet known, its implications have potential to move Apple ahead of competitors, like Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF), and could even be related to development of its much-rumored iWatch.

Despite receiving $43 million in funding so far, LuxVue has stayed low-profile in the market. Yet, it has received several praises. One of the most famous has been from John Doerr at Techcrunch, who explained the innovative technology of the displays. LuxVue's micro-LED display allows devices to operate with brighter lights at a low power consumption. 

Although Apple hasn't disclosed any details about its acquisition, the move suggests possible case scenarios, such as improved differentiation and innovation, as well as benefits of owning a potential breakthrough technology. 

Innovation in upcoming products
With LuxVue, Apple could incorporate micro-LED displays in its new products, adding differentiation. As a result, the company can maintain its leading position in the market, making quality high-end products that attract and engage customers. In that way, the acquisition seems like a valuable asset for hardware innovations.

Moreover, a short battery life has been a constant complaint from many smartphone users. For that reason, companies tackle that problem by offering accessories that lengthen battery life, through extended battery cases, for example. So, LuxVue's technology is able to face this issue directly, as it offers a high-performance display for a low energy consumption, maximizing battery life and device usage, while adding value to electronic devices.

As pointed out in an article from Mashable, there is great chance that the acquisition of LuxVue is intended to further production of the iWatch. The source recalls how John Doerr stated at Techcrunch that the LuxVue technology is adaptable to curved substrates that could be used for a great watch. Then, it links this statement with the fact that Doerr was a close friend with Apple's co-founder, Steve Jobs, and might be familiar with the Cupertino-based company's plans. Moreover, it notes that LuxVue has filed for a patent that further hints at its application in wearable device technology. In that sense, armed with micro-LED technology, Apple could strongly penetrate the promising new industry of wearable devices, immediately taking a dominant share.

Cutting dependence from electronic display suppliers
Owning LuxVue allows Apple to rely on its own manufacturer of high-quality electronic displays, instead of depending on other suppliers. As its LCD Retina Display seems to fall behind the new OLED screen, Apple either needs to acquire supplies of OLED or come up with a better display to improve the hardware quality of its high-end products. Now, it seems like the company has found a solution to cut dependence from any OLED supplier -- like its top competitor, Samsung -- for the production of its next generation of tech devices.

A possible breakthrough technology 
It has been stated that LuxVue's display is nine times brighter than both OLED and LCD screens. That, plus the fact that it is power efficient, could make it the next screen with high demand in the market, replacing other electronic displays. As a result, Apple, which now owns the 21 patents filed by LuxVue, could see its top line improve significantly in future years from possible hardware sales of its newly acquired technology.

Battling with Samsung
One of Apple's biggest competitors in the mobile device market is Korean manufacturer Samsung. Apple is losing share in the tablet space, as users seem more attracted to large-screen smartphones, also called phablets. In its most recent quarter, iPad sales decreased 16%, with its market share dropping from 40.2% to 32.5% from the same quarter last year. This is partly due to Samsung's aggressive marketing strategy, especially for phablets. In that way, the Korean company's tablet market share has increased to 22.3% from 17.5% in the previous year. To regain market share, Apple will likely charge a premium for the larger-screen iPhone 6, which should be released later this year.

Also, Samsung recently launched the new version of its smartwatch, Gear 2, securing its position in the wearable device market. Apple can successfully enter this market with a high-end micro-LED display iWatch that surpasses, or at least matches, Samsung's AMOLED. Since it has a powerful brand, Apple can sell its new product to loyal customers with relative ease, while also engaging new ones.

Final Foolish takeaway
LuxVue can provide Apple with several possible benefits. As an owner of micro-LED technology, the company can release new high-end products with a strong differentiation, while cutting the need to acquire screens from an OLED supplier. Moreover, the newly acquired display could be a breakthrough technology, which could have high demand in the future, not only from mobile device users, but from electronics manufacturers. While Samsung cements itself in the wearable device market, Apple can still successfully enter this industry with a power-efficient micro-LED iWatch, using its brand to grab a large share.


Alvaro Campos has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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