Is LuxVue why the iPad Pro is late?

Reports claim that the iPad Pro is late due to screen supply issues. But Apple already sources millions of advanced displays. A radical new screen technology is the problem as well as a major new competitive barrier - if they can build them.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor on
There are so many Apple iPad Pro rumors it feels like Apple might be spreading some of them to misdirect media attention. If you can't beat chatty suppliers, join 'em.

As a result, many, including me, are speculating about rumors of a schedule slip of a rumored product. But Apple schedules have slipped before; some rumors have proven correct; and, most importantly, we have external-to-Apple evidence of Apple's display plans independent of rumor.

It's the last point I'm focused on.

Naked displays of money

Apple has used its huge cash pile to buy lasting competitive advantage before. Such as the 10,000 CNC machines Apple bought to build aluminum MacBook cases.

Likewise the $500 million downpayment to take half the world's flash capacity back in iPod days. Or the failed bet - but potentially huge win - on sapphire iPhone screens.

So we know that if the advantage is real, Apple will splash out hundreds of millions. Displays are a critical area for improved mobile devices, as backlights account for as much as 40 percent of notebook or tablet power consumption, and are critical to customer perception of value and quality.

Apple knows this. Last year they bought LuxVue, a startup focused on micro-LED displays.

What is a micro-LED display?

Light emitting diodes (LED) commonly provide LCD screen backlights. They are thinner, lighter, longer lasting and more reliable than the miniature fluorescent tubes used a decade ago.

The backlight has to be very bright since there are several color filters and a polarizer for the light to traverse before it reaches your eyes. As a result up to 90% of the backlight's energy is wasted.

The LuxVue display substitutes 3 colored LEDs for each screen pixel that blast light directly to your eyes. Think miniature Jumbotron. No color filters or polarizers to absorb light.

The advantage for LuxVue is direct-to-your-eyes color and clarity. And up to 95 percent less power consumption.

A 10 hour tablet whose display power usage drops from 2 watts per hour to 0.2 watts per hour would almost double battery life.

Or, the battery size and weight could be cut almost in half, with more cuts to the device frame. Net net: much lighter devices with great battery life.

Build it and they will buy

Apple's challenge with the LuxVue technology is not the architecture - it really is a tiny Jumbotron - but producing millions of Retina displays a year at acceptable yields. Most of LuxVue's patents cover production techniques, not LEDs.

Essentially Apple suppliers have to figure out how to lay down millions of LEDs - semiconductor devices - on a substrate and then ensure that almost all of them work reliably for years.

The Storage Bits take

Adding the LuxVue challenges to the rumors surrounding the iPad pro explains the screen shortage theory in a sensible way. The new MacBook screen is advanced conventional technology and they don't seem to have a problem getting those.

Adding LuxVue to the iPad Pro product should enable Apple to build a 12" product with excellent battery life that weighs no more than an iPad Air 2. Or they could add a MacBook keyboard and knock several more ounces off that machine's already svelte frame.

Of course, it could be that LuxVue production problems - like those of sapphire screens - can't be fixed, even with a billion dollars and brilliant production engineering.

If so we'll be waiting even longer for an iPad Pro than the rumor mongers expect.

Comments welcome, of course. Lighter, thinner, what's not to like?

See also:

Editorial standards