Apple Vision Pro shakes up the micro OLED market

The launch of Vision Pro last February marks a major event that goes beyond Apple’s brand name. Apple’s headset is the first mass-produced VR product to integrate micro-OLED, also called OLED-on-Si or OLEDoS. Sony is the source of Vision Pro’s microdisplays, drawing on its extensive expertise in displays and image sensors.

In two reports, Micro-OLED in Apple Vision Pro and Displays and Optics for xReality 2024, Yole Group provides in-depth analysis of Sony’s OLED microdisplay technology and forecasts the market penetration rate of micro-OLED.

Today, both analysts, Sylvain Hallereau and Raphael Mermet, at Yole Group present an insightful overview of the Apple Vision Pro headset. This comprehensive analysis delves deeply into the current market landscape, offering a detailed examination with a special focus on microdisplay technology powered by Sony.

Sony OLED microdisplay technology put to the acid test

Vision Pro is jam-packed with cutting-edge technology that Yole SystemPlus invites you to discover, starting with the microdisplays designed by Sony.

The micro-OLED die is mounted on a metal support and connected to an electronic board using an anisotropic conductive film (ACF). The silicon die is impressively large, with an area exceeding 600 mm², comparable to the largest current processors. With this size, Sony reaches the limits of standard silicon die fabrication. Each microdisplay contains over 11 million pixels.

The semiconductor processes enable very small pixel pitches, 7.5 µm in this case. Space optimization is further enhanced through the use of vias to connect the emitted zone to the ASIC. Yole SystemPlus analysis reveals the most infinite details of Sony’s microdisplay architecture down to the OLED structure. Ample consideration has been given to interfaces and electrodes, ensuring their compatibility with other materials and semiconductor processes, which optimizes light emission, diffusion, and upward extraction. The OLED layer, approximately 200 nm thick, is stacked between two electrodes. It produces white light converted into red, green and blue by color filters. The light emitted downwards is reflected by aluminum mirrors placed under each pixel and combined with the light emitted upwards. Both emissions are directed through the color filter and towards the eye. A conductive, transparent layer of ITO (indium-tin-oxide) covers a thin layer of silver to form the top electrode, benefiting from the low work function of silver and the reduced resistivity provided by the ITO.

Sylvain Hallereau Principal Analyst, Global Semiconductors at Yole Group
Still, a question remains: is the product purely Sony’s, or does TSMC have a role in it? The teardown reveals relevant clues leading Yole SystemPlus to assume that full credit goes to Sony. Besides the fact that the microdisplay does not rely on an advanced technology node, depositing the OLED layer on top of the integrated circuit requires a specific process that can only be derived from extensive expertise in both display electronics and optics. Moreover, Sony’s production capacity was sufficient to meet Apple’s original demands.

Market imbroglio

With the increasing demand for micro-OLEDs and the limited production capacity of Sony, Apple is encouraging new players to enter the game. Chinese manufacturers, including BOE, SeeYA Technology, SidTek, and Lakeside Lightning Semiconductor, are making a strong entry into this market. Samsung is also joining the competition, bolstered by its acquisition of eMagin last October.

Raphaël Mermet-Lyaudoz Technology & Market Analyst, Display at Yole Group
This U.S.-based manufacturer uses RGB directly patterned (color-filter free) technology, offering greater brightness and lower energy consumption, but at a much higher cost than Sony due to process specificity. Additionally, Samsung could rely on recent substantial investments by Merck, which aims to capitalize on OLED technologies in South Korea.

Apple Vision Pro: the springboard of Micro-OLEDs

The launch of Vision Pro is expected to boost microdisplay production capacities for VR, potentially reaching 30 million units by 2029. However, this projection is theoretical and must be tempered by several factors. First, the technology requires heavy investments in equipment and dedicated production lines to handle increased volumes. It is unlikely that all players will meet their announced goals by the end of the decade. This assumption is further supported by the current low manufacturing yield, which is below 50%. Some manufacturing processes, especially the evaporation stage, are not yet fully optimized, and the impact on yield is particularly significant for wafers with large dies. Considering these challenges, Yole Group forecasts a production capacity of 7 million microdisplays by 2029, corresponding to a VR market penetration of 18%.

Future generations of microdisplays for VR are expected to move towards smaller pixel pitches, reducing the silicon die size. This will have a dual positive impact by decreasing raw material usage and improving yield. Enhanced manufacturing process control, software optimization to compensate for dead pixels, and increased global fab capacity should also contribute to halving the cost of Sony’s microdisplays, currently at $300, within the next five years.

The market research and strategy consulting company, Yole Group continues its exploration of Apple’s headset all year long. New reports, aligned with the core expertise with the group, will be available soon:

In addition, a complete system’s teardown, part of the Consumer Teardown Track collection, will be developed by Yole Group’s analysts soon. The express version is now available.

Stay tuned on www.yolegroup to discover new analyses!

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About the authors

Raphaël Mermet-Lyaudoz, PhD is Technology & Market Analyst, Display at Yole Group.

He is a member of Imaging & Display team, within the More than Moore activities. Raphaël covers technological evolutions and market trends in the display field to deliver his analysis in Yole Group’s products.

Raphaël obtained an Engineering degree from Institut d’Optique (FR) and a PhD from Université de Lyon (FR) in collaboration with INL-CNRS. During his academic curriculum he particularly studied Optics, Material Appearances, Nanophotonics, Emerging Materials and lasers and published some of his works in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Sylvain Hallereau is Principal Analyst, Global Semiconductors at Yole Group.

Working in close collaboration with the laboratory teams, Sylvain develops reverse engineering & costing products while also contributing to custom projects, especially focused on solid-state lighting components, sensors, biotechnology devices, and ICs. Together, they define the objectives of the analysis and the most relevant methodology to gain a detailed understanding of the structure of the device. Sylvain then analyzes the results to describe the technology choices made by the leading semiconductor companies and the related process flows and also calculates the cost structure.

In parallel, based on his significant technical and industrial knowledge, Sylvain supports the development of the semiconductor device activities and the related teams at Yole Group.

Sylvain daily runs a strategic watch within the semiconductor community. Through his investigations, his aim is to identify innovative components and new manufacturing processes. In this way, Sylvain supports Yole Group’s teams with the setting up of new methodologies for analysis and the updating of advanced simulation tools.

Sylvain regularly contributes to numerous media articles, using his technology and industry expertise to analyze and comment on the latest innovations.

He holds a master’s degree in microelectronics from the University of Nantes (France).

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