Apple boosts R&D efforts with investments in displays, former chip fab

Apple has traditionally avoided spending a lot on research and development. But the company has been stepping up its R&D efforts of late.

The iPhone maker recently opened a laboratory in Taiwan to develop new display technologies, Bloomberg reported. It also purchased a former chip factory in San Jose that could be used to prototype new chips, according to the San Jose Business Journal.

The display lab in Taiwan, which Apple opened earlier this year and employs at least 50 workers, including engineers, is working on new screens for iPads and iPhones, Bloomberg reported. Apple is trying to improve standard liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and is also working on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens.

LCD is the most popular display technology in use, widely employed in televisions, smartphones, laptops and computer monitors. To date, Apple has used LCDs in all of its products except the new Apple Watch.

Many tech analysts believe that OLED displays will eventually supplant LCDs and become the dominant display technology. OLEDs are better able to produce blacks and can potentially be made thinner and more power efficient and LCD displays. To date, though, OLED makers have struggled to compete with LCDs, and the screens have only been used in a smattering of smartphones and other tech products and in a few high-end televisions.

Regardless of whether Apple can spur the broad switch to OLEDs, it has plenty of incentive to come up with its own display designs. Currently, the company relies on big manufacturers such as Samsung and Sharp for its displays. If it could come up with its own designs, it could rely on smaller manufacturers — and potentially save money.

Much of the battery power of smartphones and tablets is devoted to powering their displays. If Apple could engineer a proprietary screen that used less power, it could offer devices that had longer battery life, featured more powerful processors or were thinner than their competitors.

Apple’s display lab is the same site where Qualcomm worked on a low-powered display technology called Mirasol.

Meanwhile, Apple purchased a former chip factory in North San Jose, the San Jose Business Journal reported. Previously owned by semiconductor maker Maxim Integrated Products, the facility included chip-making tools and was marketed as an ideal space for prototyping semiconductor products.

Apple declined to talk about how it will use the building, saying only that it is planning on opening additional office space and research facilities in San Jose as part of a broader Bay Area expansion.

“The only thing I can think that they would be doing is potentially be saying, ‘OK, we need to do some prototyping in some way or form.’ Or they want a clean-room space to do some tweaky development,”said Dean Freeman, an analyst at market research firm Gartner, told the Business Journal. “This isn’t big enough to do anything (production-wise).”

Apple is spending about $10 billion a year on research and development. While that’s a lot of money in absolute terms, it’s less than 4 percent of the company’s overall budget. By contrast, Samsung, Microsoft, Intel and even Amazon spend more on R&D than Apple, despite having considerably less revenue.

Photo: The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco is decorated for an Apple media event in September. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • USMC 8th and I

    Another useless, air biscuit story…….Anything to get the word APPLE in your headlines………

  • fstein

    Just speculating. Apple Watch needs the ‘thinner, power saving’.. If / when Apple launches a big screen, OLED might be the big deal.

  • Artmon

    I am ALWAYS curious as to why there appears to be a CONCERTED EFFORT for analyst to over scrutinize and NEGATIVELY frame APPLE? I don’t see stories a 1000 analyst commenting on EVERY GOOGLE’s EMPLOYEE BM. I don’t see constant supply checks on the TECH DARLING, OVER PROMISING and UNDER DELIVERING Elon of TSLA. Let me remind you APPLE trades at JUST 12X earnings…as compared to this companies CONSISTENT EARNINGS the stock is LITERALLY BEING “GIVEN AWAY”!