- Apple is on track to launch OLED iPads and MacBook Airs in 2024.
- OLED is better than regular LCD in many ways.
- The MacBook Air could really benefit from a better screen.
Apple plans to radically upgrade its iPad Pro, and MacBook Air displays with OLED screens.
OLED displays look amazing, use less power, and have blacker blacks than other screen technologies. But mini-LED, as used on the current 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro, has its advantages. Still, it seems like Apple is really into OLED as the future screen tech for its whole lineup, and it will be especially great for MacBook Air users.
“First, OLED technology is more energy-efficient than mini-LED. Second, OLED panels can display deeper blacks and richer colors than mini-LED panels,” Jeroen van Gils, managing director at LED tech company Lifi.co told Lifewire via email. “[And] OLED panels are thinner and more lightweight than mini-LED panels, which may make them more comfortable to use.”
Right now, Apple uses different screen technologies for different products. In fact, it often uses different kinds of displays in the same product line. For example, the 12.9-inch M2 iPad Pro has a mini-LED display, while the 11-inch M2 iPad Pro uses the same old LED-backlit screen tech it has used for years.
At other times, Apple uses screen tech to differentiate its product lines. The M2 MacBook Air is an incredible machine, and for most people, it's powerful enough for anything you need to do, eliminating the need to buy the MacBook Pro. But Apple's Pro laptop has an utterly incredible mini-LED display, which is brighter, contrastier, and just way better looking than the one in the Air. That, along with the extra ports on the sides of the MacBook Pro, is enough to prompt many buyers to spend the extra.
After all, what's a laptop but a screen and a keyboard?
If you are looking for the latest technology, then it might be worth waiting for the OLED displays to arrive.
Who knows whether Apple will eventually settle on OLED for all its devices? What we do know, according to various supply-chain reports, is that the two devices most in need of better screens—the MacBook Air and 11-inch iPad Pro—are getting the upgrade. This will make the Air possibly Apple’s most compelling machine; an M-series Mac chip, beautiful slim case, incredible battery life, and a vibrant screen; what’s not to like?
OLED vs Mini-LED vs the Rest
So, what are the differences between these screen technologies? Let's look at the significant differences and the basic pros and cons.
LCD screens, like you find in most laptops and all iPads, consist of two parts: an LED backlight and a grid of colored LCD pixels. The white backlight shines light through the pixel layer, and the pixels change color. It's like shining a flashlight through a cellophane candy wrapper. That all works fine, except when it comes to the color black. To create black colors, these screens try to block as much of the backlight as possible, but some will always leak through, resulting in dark gray at best.
Mini-LED screens improve the situation by using an array of hundreds or thousands of white LED backlights instead of one big backlight. This lets the screen vary the brightness locally, even switching off the LEDs in some sections to get blacker blacks. This allows much higher contrast ratios and looks fantastic. It's especially good with photos and movies.
Then we get to OLED, which ditches the layered design altogether. With an OLED screen, each pixel lights up individually. This means that black areas are as dark as they could possibly be. OLED also requires way less power because it only lights up the pixels you see. Black pixels are switched off. In comparison, LCD screens power their backlights all the time, then use the LCD pixels to block that light.
This translates to better displays and battery life for laptops—a win-win. But it's not all so easy. The O on OLED stands for "organic," and those organic compounds can deteriorate over time. OLEDs are also more susceptible to burn-in, in which some oft-displayed elements can become permanently burned into the screen itself.
But a lot of that can be mitigated by not running the screens at full brightness, for example. And the results are great, which is probably exactly why Apple is into it. The advantages are too good to ignore. Should you wait for these new screens before buying? Well, that depends.
“If you are looking for the latest technology, then it might be worth waiting for the OLED displays to arrive,” Zak Kann, founder of smart home website Smart Geek Home, told Lifewire via email. “However, if you need a new iPad Pro right away, then you may want to consider buying one with a mini-LED display.”