Let's take a trip down memory lane. Speculation about Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) adopting OLED display technology initially popped up around 2009, when analysts thought that the rumored tablet that we now know as the iPad would sport an OLED display. In the years that followed, the same speculation would re-emerge, as Apple would continue filing patents related to OLED technology.
All of this culminated in early 2013, when for the first time, Tim Cook directly responded to a question about OLED while speaking at a Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference. Just three sentences uttered by the Apple CEO were enough to crush shares of OLED specialist Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED).
Well, now that Apple has started to ship its first flexible AMOLED display found in the Apple Watch, it seems that the Mac maker is changing its tune about the technology. In fact, fellow Fool and OLED enthusiast Steve Symington believes that Apple will eventually transition its entire lineup to OLED displays.
Three reasons to wait
When Cook downplayed the technology, he cited three primary weaknesses that existed at the time:
- Poor color saturation: "The color saturation is awful."
- Poor color accuracy: "You should think twice before you depend on the color of the OLED display."
- Poor brightness: "The Retina display is twice as bright as an OLED display."
The technical wizards over at DisplayMate recently gave the Apple Watch's OLED display a thorough run for its money. Has OLED overcome these weaknesses that were previously keeping Apple at bay?
With regards to color saturation, the Apple Watch display performs quite well. In fact, the biggest challenge with color saturation is unrelated to the display itself. Sapphire naturally reflects approximately twice as much light as glass, which reduces contrast and color saturation. Apple Watch models that feature sapphire are inherently at a disadvantage here.
One reason OLED displays have oversaturated colors is that they have very wide color gamuts. Because Apple expects the Apple Watch to be frequently used alongside the iPhone 6, it made sure that the color gamuts of the two devices were very similar, even though they use different underlying display technologies. Compare that to the extremely wide gamut of Samsung's newest Galaxy S6.
Similar to the issue of color saturation, Apple ensured that the color accuracy of the Apple Watch was extremely close to that of the iPhone 6. It's more important to ensure accuracy for red and green, because errors there are more noticeable than blue. Apple has chosen to use a relatively bluish white point, which technically reduces overall accuracy, as well as display efficiency, but at least the company is consistent with both devices. Still, DisplayMate considers the Apple Watch's color accuracy as "very good."
This one is particularly tricky in the context of the Apple Watch specifically. One solution to the aforementioned higher reflectivity of sapphire is to increase brightness; however, using up more juice runs the risk of hurting battery life, and battery life is already a touchy topic with smartwatches because the batteries are so small, and people aren't behaviorally accustomed to having to charge watches daily.
Apple has implemented a "rather aggressive brightness management strategy" for these reasons, according to DisplayMate. The Apple Watch brightness isn't as strong as the iPhone 6, but it holds its own.
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them
While the Apple Watch's OLED display may not technically be on par with the iPhone 6, it's pretty damn close. At the very least, there's light (insert pun here) at the end of the tunnel.
As Apple continues to research and improve its OLED technology, I think Steve might be on to something here. One day, I could see Apple exclusively using some proprietary implementation of OLED for its displays. There are just too many benefits to ignore.