The market in general had high hopes for Mini LED notebook computers in 2021. Although most brands were relatively unenthusiastic towards the adoption of Mini LED displays, the release of Mini LED products by Apple will likely generate a copycat effect and inject fresh momentum into both demand and shipment for the Mini LED notebook market. Apple did, in fact, release two brand new MacBook Pros with 14.2-inch and 16.2-inch displays, both of which are equipped with Mini LED backlights as expected. However, these Mini LED notebook displays did not receive as much marketing and publicity as the Mini LED displays used for the iPad Pro models, which had been released about six months prior.
During the unveiling of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in 2Q21, Apple made special mention of improvements brought about by the Liquid Retina XDR display technology thanks to the company’s adoption of Mini LED backlights. Conversely, perhaps because the new physical dimensions and processors took most of the spotlight, Apple was surprisingly quiet on its new MacBook Pro models’ Mini LED displays as it announced the release of these new computers during its October event. Not only did the Mini LED iPad Pros completely replace the previous edge-lit models, but these new tablets also featured a mere US$100 retail price hike, which basically entirely accounts for the cost of the new displays. Subsequently, the market began eagerly anticipating the release of the new Mini LED iPad Pro models. In contrast, whereas the 14.2-inch and 16.2-inch models of the new MacBook Pros also feature Mini LED displays exclusively, their retail prices saw significant jumps owing to the integration of multiple updated components and designs, in turn refreshing the enthusiasm of the market for Mini LED displays.
Thanks to the release of the two new MacBook models, annual Mini LED notebook shipment for 2021 reached 2.2 million units, representing a 1% penetration rate in the total notebook market. Regrettably, apart from MacBooks, the shipment volume of Mini LED notebooks released by non-Apple brands was rather insignificant. Looking ahead to 2022, given the all-out effort by Apple to ramp up MacBook shipment throughout the whole year, annual Mini LED notebook shipment for 2022 will likely undergo a staggering 360% YoY increase to eight million units for a 3.4% penetration rate. However, judging by notebook brands’ adoption of display solutions at the moment, most non-Apple brands will still gravitate towards OLED panels in 2022, with minimal adoption of Mini LED displays.
If Gen 8.5 OLED panel production lines are able to kick off mass production from 2024 onwards, will Apple transition its MacBook displays to a different solution much like it did for iPad? TrendForce believes that Apple has historically held a receptive attitude towards OLED solutions. Furthermore, from a technology assessment perspective, notebook computers and tablets are relatively similar in their display technologies and, to a lesser extent, use cases. If Apple does decide to transition iPad displays from Mini LED to OLED, then the company will likely do the same for MacBook display as well, in principle. On the other hand, LCD panels are still expected to remain the mainstream display technology for notebook computers in 2025. It, therefore, makes competitive sense for notebook brands to differentiate their products with OLED panels in the high-end segment and with LCD panels and Mini LED backlights in the premium mid-range segment or even mid-range segment. At any rate, given the shrinking gap between the cost structures of Mini LED solutions and OLED solutions, only by continually optimizing the manufacturing costs of Mini LED backlights can suppliers convince Apple to continue adopting Mini LED displays.
（Image credit: Pixabay）
During Apple’s Spring Loaded event, the Cupertino company announced the upcoming release of its latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro models featuring Mini LED display technology. According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, demand for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has already been relatively high in the niche markets.
Thus, given the thorough improvement in specs as well as the very slight price hike of merely $100 over the previous generation, TrendForce is not only revising up its shipment forecast for the 2021 version of the 12-inch iPad Pro from four million units to five million units this year, but also expecting this product to account for a 3.1% share in the global tablet market, compared to the previous forecast of 2.5%.
TrendForce analyst Max Chen indicates three key areas of observation with respect to Apple’s latest flagship tablet: technology cost, retail price, and product spec. First, in terms of technology cost, the Mini LED backlight used in the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro costs about US$85 more than the traditional edge-lit LED backlight used in the previous generation.
Second, in terms of retail price, the entry-level 128GB model of the 12.9-inch Mini LED iPad Pro retails for $1,099, which is only $100 higher than the equivalent model of the previous generation. As such, the price hike in the latest model is, for the most part, a result of the increased cost of Mini LED backlights, rather than wholly being an attempt at driving up profit margins. The modest price hike is therefore an indication of Apple’s desire to become the gold standard in the tablet market by adopting Mini LED backlight technology.
Finally, in terms of product spec, the latest 12.9-inch Mini LED iPad Pro is equipped with Apple’s high-end Liquid Retina XDR technology, which gives the tablet a max full-screen brightness of 1,000 nits, peak brightness of 1,600 nits, and contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, with the peak brightness and contrast ratio both being firsts in the tablet industry.
Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the latest tablet is equipped with 10,384 Mini LED chips, divided into 2,596 dimming zones, giving it additional high contrast and high color saturation performance that is superior to the 31.5-inch iMac, which features 512 backlight dimming zones and is the first product to feature Apple’s XDR display technology.
With regards to Apple’s plans for 2H21, the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook models will likewise feature Mini LED backlight technology, which will become the hardware benchmark for high-end tablets and notebook computers. The release of Apple’s Mini LED-equipped tablets is expected to galvanize a growth against market headwinds for upstream and downstream companies in the Mini LED supply chain, including Mini LED chip suppliers (e.g., Ennostar), testing and sorting service suppliers (e.g., FitTech, Saultech, and YTEC), SMT suppliers (e.g., TSMT and Yenrich), backplane PCB suppliers (e.g., Zhen Ding Tech and Tripod Technology), driver IC suppliers (e.g., Parade, Novatek, and Macroblock), and light source module suppliers (e.g., Radiant/ROE and GIS).
(Cover image source: Apple.com)
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