Foxconn and Sharp buying a stake in micro-LED startup eLux

Apple's favorite contract manufacturer Foxconn Electronics is teaming up with its display-making subsidiary Sharp to acquire a 31.82 percent stake in eLux, a Delaware-based startup engaged in research and development of micro-LED technology and its application to virtual reality and augmented reality devices.

The American startup was established in October 2016 by researchers formerly employed at Sharp's research facilities across the United States.

Sharp says it will team with CyberNet Venture Capital, panel maker Innolux and Advanced Optoelectronic Technology (all affiliated with Foxconn) to buy eLux in October.

Nikkei said earlier this week that Sharp will take a stake of just over 30 percent in eLux, valued at $7 million, in exchange for related patents. Additionally, the Japanese giant will transfer 21 patents regarding micro-LED technology to eLux, said DigiTimes.

Apple is apparently serious about this promising new display technology.

Aside from acquiring micro-LED specialists LuxVue back in 2014, the Cupertino company could kick off trial production of micro-LEDs by the end of 2017, with Apple Watch Series 3 likely switching from OLED to micro-LED display technology.

Power-conserving micro-LEDs consist of small, light-emitting diodes that render images.

They're capable of boosting battery life by as much as 300 percent versus LCDs. The technology allows for improved color gamut and up to two to three times the brightness of OLED-based screens under the same power consumption.

Apple could start building micro-LED screens by end of 2017

Despite many technological bottlenecks, Apple could kick off trial production of the power-efficient display panels based on a relatively new and unproven micro-LED technology by the end of this year. According to a supply chain report Wednesday from Taiwanese trade publication DigiTimes, the Cupertino giant is likely to crank out a small volume of micro-LED display products from its plant in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan at the end of the year.

Other companies are looking to commercialize micro-LEDs, too.

Samsung-owned PlayNitride should install a production line for micro-LEDs in the second half of 2017, which will use a mass-transfer process that mounts micro-LED chips on thin film transistor substrates. Micro-LED are so small that a five-inch 400-by-600 pixel smartphone panel requires nearly one million and a 4K TV panel about 50 million tiny chips.

PlayNitride doesn't expect first micro-LED-based mobile products to appear before 2019.

Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute is expected to tie up with local businesses to begin trial production of micro-LEDs in 2018, using its in-house developed technology.

Let's not forget Apple's contract manufacturer Foxconn, which recently announced plans plans to acquire display startup eLux for the development of next-generation micro-LEDs.

Apple itself acquired micro-LED specialists LuxVue three years ago.

Business Korea claimed last month that Apple Watch Series 3 is likely to use a micro-LED display before the technology proves feasible enough to be deployed on a mass-scale across Apple's iPhone, iPad and Mac devices.

Samsung Display and LG Display, which currently supply LCD screens for Apple devices, could lose around $1 billion per year should the iPhone maker adopt micro-LEDs.

As we explained before, micro-LEDs could pave the way for Apple devices with longer-lasting batteries and brighter screens. As you know, traditional LCD-based screens waste a lot of energy because they require a backlight.

In addition to boosting battery life by as much as 300 percent versus LCDs, micro-LEDs allow for higher-resolution screens with improved color gamut and two to three times the brightness of OLED technology under the same power consumption.

Image: LuxVue's patent related to commercialization of Micro-LEDs, now owned by Apple.

Apple Watch Series 3 may rock thinner, lighter & power sipping micro-LED display

Apple's secret research and development lab in Taiwan has been researching an emerging micro-LED display technology since at least 2015. A new report today by Business Korea alleges that an advanced micro-LED display could make its debut on the next Apple Watch, replacing flexible OLED panels of its predecessors (DigiTimes was first to report on such a possibility in June 2016). micro-LED displays are thinner, lighter and more energy-efficient than OLED or LCD screens.

How Micro-LEDs could allow for Apple gadgets with longer-lasting batteries & brighter screens

2017 iPhones may ditch traditional LCDs for a lot brighter, much more power-efficient OLED display technology. However, the OLED switch could be short-lived as Apple is said to be adopting emerging Micro-LED display panels. Micro-LED screens could debut on 2017 Apple Watch models.

Micro-LEDs range in size from one micron to one hundred microns. Skating to where the puck's going to be, Apple in May 2014 bought Micro-LED developer LuxVue Technology, adding their talent to to its hardware innovations team. The iPhone maker also set up an R&D center in Taiwan to research Micro-LEDs.

Here's a technology primer providing a layman's overview of the current state of Micro-LED technology and how it could benefit Apple by helping its teams engineer devices that would rock longer-lasting batteries and have significantly brighter screens.