It's official: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is bringing a smartwatch to market in early 2015. Only it won't actually be called the iWatch, but rather the "Apple Watch." It'll start at $349 and will come in two sizes with three gorgeously designed collections -- each with a variety of colors and straps -- which Apple says enables "millions" of possible personalized combinations.
The Apple Watch also contains a host of health-related sensors, a customized user interface, and a pressure-sensitive "flexible Retina display" laminated to a piece of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.
About that "flexible" display
But for those investors following along with the rumors on the display side, four key letters appear to be missing: OLED. That stands for organic light-emitting diode -- a technology that was widely expected to be included in the Apple Watch. But Apple didn't confirm or deny at its Tuesday event whether the Apple Watch's display is, indeed, driven by OLED.
On the surface, that's bad news for OLED technologist Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED). Specifically, Universal Display licenses its OLED-centric patent portfolio and sells OLED materials to LG Display (NYSE:LPL). And LG Display, for its part, was rumored to have signed an exclusive agreement with Apple back in January to provide 1.52-inchflexible OLED displays for the then-unnamed wearable device. In fact, just last week The Wall Street Journal cited sources familiar with the device as saying it would be "offered in two sizes, each featuring a curved organic light-emitting diode screen."
Sure enough, shares of Universal Display plunged by as much as 10% in Tuesday's trading, and then closed down around 7% after many investors took Apple's "flexible Retina display" description to mean it was not OLED, but rather a liquid crystal display, as every other Apple Retina device has employed to date.
It's not over yet, OLED fans
At first that makes sense, especially considering Apple CEO Tim Cook bashed OLED early last year for what he called "awful" color saturation. However, patent filings from last December showed Apple was hard at work addressing those issues through integrated thermal sensors, which would help dynamically adjust the light emitted by each pixel and effectively resolve Cook's beef with the color reproduction of OLED.
Also, why would Apple say it's a "flexible" display if it's not OLED? Because apart from OLED, I can't think of any other commercially ready "flexible" display technology that offers the same bright, vivid picture, and can be supplied on the sheer scale Apple demands with its enormous product launches.
What's more, though Apple's "flexible" display doesn't appear to actually curve as many had expected -- for example, in the same way Samsung's curved OLED Galaxy Gear S smartwatch does -- the glass itself does appear to curve down into the bezel, which could explain the verbiage used by WSJ's sources.
Finally, note the Apple Watch display's two sizes are 38 mm and 42 mm. Convert the 1.52-inch display size from LG Display's rumored supply deal into the metric scale, and we get -- you guessed it -- roughly 38 mm. It could also very well be that LG Display is supplying the larger 42 mm panel, though it's worth noting The Korea Times reported in June that Apple was seeking to secure Samsung as a second supplier for small OLED displays.
Needless to say, given all these factors, I think it's not only still possible, but also probable, that Universal Display's OLED technology has found its way into Apple's repertoire through the Apple Watch. If that does turn out to be the case, Universal Display's pullback will ultimately prove short-lived.