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OLED Technology Could Make Its Way Into a New High End Mini-MacBook

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An interesting bit of scuttlebutt from Australian news site Smarthouse’s David Richards says Apple (s aapl) is close to launching a touchscreen “netbook type” computer according to new sources in Asia, which is a pretty widely-disseminated rumor this week. But what I hadn’t got wind of before is Richards’ report that Apple has been exploring the use of flexible OLED (Organic light-emitting diode) display technology for both screens and keyboards.

Richards says “insiders” have told SmartHouse that Apple is using a new version of their operating system software that incorporates a synergy of iPhone and MacBook capabilities, and that the fruit company has also recently been in discussions with Sony (s SNE) about licensing OLED technology into notebooks.

If this information is accurate, it puts wind under the wings of the school of thought that the new hardware from Apple, whatever it turns out to be, will be more along the lines of a laptop than an iPod touch on steroids, although not necessarily a laptop as we conventionally know them.

While Steve Jobs and Apple have been famously resistant to and haughtily dismissive of the netbook phenomenon, Richards says that sources have told SmartHouse that Apple had a change of mind after they were able to improve the capability of their touchscreen software and because they had been able to get new patents that allows them to deliver new features to a — taaa daaa! — “small notebook.”

As for OLED’s, if you’re not familiar, the technology has been touted as a coming “next big thing” in laptop computer development since at least 2000, which is when I first researched the topic and wrote about it.

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology screens emit light directly and, consequently, the LED or CCFL backlighting required by conventional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) can be eliminated, which reduces bulk and power consumption. Active-matrix OLED screens also offer a wider viewing angle than LCDs, so they can be seen clearly from the side, and they have a much faster response time than LCDs as well.

OLEDs use thin sheets of film coated with a highly fluorescent material that emit light when electrical current is applied. This electroluminescent film is much easier to produce than liquid-crystal screens, and illuminates the screen much more efficiently than do backlit LCDs, which use an array of polarizers and color filters.

OLED technology could theoretically enable fabrication of display screens 1,000 times thinner than a human hair (that should appeal to Apple!) using organic light-emitting diodes that can be printed on a sheet of plastic. Theoretically they should be cheaper to manufacture — costing only an estimated 60 percent as much as LCDs to produce.

Sounds exciting, if that’s what’s really in the works.

7 Responses to “OLED Technology Could Make Its Way Into a New High End Mini-MacBook”

  1. Olternaut

    For da luv of gawd!

    Isn’t anyone going to comment on the ramifications of Apple getting a hold of FLEXIBLE display technology and what that might mean for future device design?
    Mr. Charles Moore is it? Can you please do a follow up article and investigate whether Apple will indeed be incorporating a flexible display into their upcoming products? In particular, will they be using a flexible display in their tablet/umpc/iWonderDevice?

    This will change everything!

  2. Charles Moore

    Hi Clayton;

    I don’t know what the upper resolution limits for OLEDs are, but this article seems to indicate that they are pretty good.

    Wikipedia says:

    *********In October 2008, Samsung unveiled the world’s largest OLED Television at 40-inch with a Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixel.[39][40] In the FPD International, Samsung stated that its 40-inch OLED Panel is the largest size currently possible . The panel has a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, a color gamut of 107% NTSC and a luminance of 200 cd/m2 (peak luminance of 600 cd/m2).

    In October 2008, Samsung showcased the world’s thinnest OLED display, also the first to be ‘flappable’ and bendable.[41] It measures just 0.05 mm (thinner than paper), yet a Samsung staff member said that it is “technically possible to make the panel thinner”.[41] To achieve this thickness, Samsung etched an OLED panel that uses a normal glass substrate. The drive circuit was formed by low-temperature polysilicon TFTs. Also, low-molecular organic EL materials were employed. The pixel count of the display is 480 × 272. The contrast ratio is 100,000:1, and the luminance is 200 cd/m2. The color reproduction range is 100% of the NTSC standard.

    In May 2008, Samsung unveiled a ultra-thin 12.1inch laptop OLED display concept, with a 1,280 x 768 resolution with infinite contrast ratio.[42] According to Woo Jong Lee, Vice President of the Mobile Display Marketing Team at Samsung SDI, the company expects OLED displays to be used in notebook PCs as soon as 2010.[43]

    In January 2008, Samsung showcased the world’s largest and thinnest OLED TV at the time, at 31-inches and 4.3 mm.[44]

    In January 2005, Samsung announced the world’s largest OLED TV at the time, at 21-inches.[45] This OLED featured the highest resolution at 6.22 million pixels (WUXGA: wide ultra-extended graphics array) at the time. In addition, the company adopted AM-based technology for its low power consumption and high-resolution qualities.*******

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we see OLEDs first on iPhones and iPods.


  3. Clayton Lai

    Great article, Charles.

    Would you happen to know what ppi OLED screens are currently capable of?

    I have a theory: remember an Apple patent that surfaced not too long ago, about LED notification lights that are beneath a screen? I think it is related to OLED; I can see these two implemented side-by-side.

    Any one up for a bet that iPhone 3.0 (the phone, not the OS) will sport both these things? ;)