Apple is struggling to break free from dependence on Samsung displays


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Apple's relationship with Samsung has always been contentious, and even now they often argue with each other over iPhone display technology.

Over the years, Apple has been developing microLED display technology for the Apple Watch and other products. But Apple engineers are discovering the display technology is more complex than they expected, according to a report by The Information released on Monday.

Samsung is protecting its manufacturing technologies. According to several former Apple employees, Samsung has banned Apple engineers from entering its factories.

In 2017, Apple engineers flew to South Korea to meet with employees from Samsung's display department. But they couldn't break into Samsung's facilities, including office buildings, as the company wanted to protect its intellectual property regarding OLED display technology.

In another case, Samsung initially banned an Apple security officer from inspecting a Vietnamese iPhone X display component assembly plant. The pair eventually reached a compromise whereby an Apple employee could be escorted through the facility as long as they agreed to go without stopping to survey your surroundings.

Because of secrecy, Apple has had trouble learning how Samsung fixes manufacturing issues with iPhone displays. For example, Apple had to conduct more rigorous display testing during product development to uncover defects than if Samsung had cooperated.

More reasons to diversify the supply chain

Interviews and internal documents have shown that Apple has not yet made much progress in getting rid of Samsung.

Former Apple employees recall how Samsung forced Apple to accept hundreds of thousands of additional MacBook displays a few years ago, despite Apple lowering its demand forecast for the device. In contrast, according to former Apple employees, most other Apple suppliers bear the financial risk of withholding and covering the cost of excess parts.

Apple has partnered with other display suppliers such as LG and BOE, but Samsung remains the main supplier, especially for the production of OLED displays for iPhone displays. LG tried to provide OLED panels for some iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, but Apple told LG that their screens weren't up to its standards, according to two former Apple employees.

Apple should continue its microLED efforts and hopes to introduce a microLED display in the Apple Watch until at least 2024 or 2025, according to two people familiar with the company's plans. But he will still have to rely on Samsung for many more years to come.

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