Fuel Added to Apple OLED Netbook/iPhone Rumors

Earlier I referenced a report by Australian news site Smarthouse’s David Richards saying Apple (s aapl) is close to launching a touchscreen “netbook type” computer according to unnamed Asian sources.

Richards is now citing sources at Korean OEM components supplier LG who tell him not only will Apple soon launch new OLED notebooks and flat panel monitors but also a new iPhones and iPod touches to be released later this year with OLED screens made by LG, which last year secured a multibillion dollar deal to manufacture displays for Apple.

Another SmartHouse anonymous source claims Apple already has a working prototype of a new netbook-type laptop to be manufactured in Taiwan with an LG-supplied OLED screen.

What’s So Great About OLEDs?

So what’s the big whoop about OLEDs? Well, if you’re not familiar, the acronym stands for “organic light-emitting diode” technology, which some have been predicting for more than half a decade now will eventually displace LCD displays for computers and flat-panel televisions. The technology is also sometimes called light emitting polymer (LEP) or organic electro luminescence (OEL).

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

Fast and Energy-Efficient

British OLED developer Cambridge Display Technology (CDT), now a subsidiary of Sumitomo Chemical, was founded in 1992 as successor to a project started in the Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University in 1989, when it was discovered that ‘organic’ LEDs could be made using conjugated polymers. CDT specializes in what it calls polymer light emitting diodes (P-OLEDs), claimed to have several intrinsic advantages over liquid crystal devices.

  • It is an emissive technology: it emits light as a function of its electrical operation.
  • Its displays consist of polymer material manufactured on a substrate of glass or plastic, and require no additional elements such as backlights or filters.
  • The technology is very energy efficient and lends itself to the creation of ultra-thin lighting displays that will operate at lower voltages.

Because LEP technology eliminates the viewing angle dependence of conventional LCDs, other benefits include:

  • More addressable lines (higher level of multiplexability)
  • Response time is fast (sub-microsecond), switching occurs at low voltage (5V), and the intensity of light is proportional to current.
  • Higher contrast
  • Less critical operating margins
  • Reduced temperature sensitivity
  • Larger displays possible

A more technical explanation of how P-OLEDs work can be found here.

Brighter, Clearer, Wider Viewing Angles

In summary, P-OLED benefits include brighter, clearer displays with viewing angles approaching 180 degrees, simpler manufacturing, offering the potential for cheaper, more robust display modules, and ultra-fast response times allowing full color video pictures even at low temperature.

CDT calls its screens light-emitting polymers (LEPs) — a type of plastic that can be charged to change color speck by speck. LEPs generate their own light, making them thinner and lighter in weight as well as more power-efficient than conventional LCD flat screen displays. They also have higher contrast with richer colors, offering superior quality images that can easily be viewed from wide angles. Additionally, LEP materials can be dissolved into solvents allowing deposition using ink-jet printing on glass or plastic substrates, thus providing a potential manufacturing advantage that could significantly change the way displays are produced and open new markets and opportunities for lower cost displays on flexible substrates that can conform to curved surfaces. CDT hopes LEPs can eventually be made from plastics soft enough to allow them to be rolled up.

Greater Range Of Colors and Blacker Blacks

LEP’s also eliminate the need for heavy, expensive display backlights, color filters and energy-wasting polarizers used in LCD displays, as well as complex multi-shadowing techniques for depositing small molecules, since color is generated directly on the LEP’s front focusing phosphors. OLED pixel colors have a greater range of colors, gamut, brightness, contrast (both DR and static), and appear correct and unshifted even at viewing angles approaching 90 degrees from dead-on and while LCDs can’t render true black due to their backlight dependence, an “off” OLED element produces no light and consumes no power, giving black blacks. Contrast, brightness, and color are retained at relatively wide angles of view.

The main OLED caveat has been limited lifetime of the organic materials used to make them, especially blue polymer OLEDs which have typically had a lifetime of around 14,000 hours (5 years at 8 hours of daily use) when used for flat-panel displays, which is less than one quarter as long as the projected service life of screens made with LCD, LED or PDP technologies (approximately 60,000 hours). CDT has reported more than tripling the lifetime of its blue polymers, but they still lag far behind the longevity of conventional technologies.

$500M R&D Funding From Apple

The Smarthouse report says LG intends to increase R&D investment by 25 percent and that recently Apple paid the Company over $500M up front to support new monitor and display technology, also noting that sources claim that while recent OLED screen testing on notebooks attracted “body oils and sweat” when a finger was constantly used on a screen, LG believes that by adding a layer in the manufacturing process that they can eliminate “finger marking.”

However, and OLED info site cautions that while this rumor thread is getting interesting, “It’s hard to believe that LG would actually release such information about a huge customer such as Apple, so we’ll have to wait and see…”

Apple always does its utmost to keep us guessing, but it appears that OLEDs are a technology whose time is arriving and looks like Apple may be in the vanguard of bringing another technological innovation to market.