iPad Pro to get OLED screen, but mini-LED comes first

Better, brighter displays could soon come to every iPad

iPad Pro display
(Image credit: Apple)

iPad displays are about to get some big upgrades. According to reports, the iPad Pro 2021 will shift to mini-LED technology in 2021 – and the following year it’ll be upgraded again to OLED. When that happens, it could mean the rest of the iPad range moving up to mini-LED to take advantage of its improved picture quality and lower power consumption.

We reported on plans for iPad and MacBook mini-LED displays last week, and new leaks add more detail. According to SamMobile, Apple has Samsung and LG preparing to produce new, ultra-thin OLED panels for the 2022 iPad Pro.

Mini-LED and OLED: what they mean for your iPad

Today’s iPads use backlit LED displays, which use LEDs to illuminate the pixels. With mini-LED the LEDs are much, much smaller, so you can pack more of them into the display. More densely packed LEDs gives the device much more control over local dimming and lighting to deliver better blacks, better contrast and more accurate colour representation with lower power consumption. But they can also be brighter, so you get not just more accurate dark areas, but brighter highlights – perfect for HDR.

Mini-LED to OLED: from good to great

Mini-LED is a significant upgrade over existing LED tech, although it isn’t quite up to the standards of OLED when it comes to contrast – so it’s not a surprise that Apple wants to put OLED technology in its future iPad Pros. 

OLED displays don’t have backlights. Instead, the individual pixels light up. The results are fantastic – the iPhone 12 has an OLED display, as do many of the best TVs – with incredible brightness, contrast and colour reproduction, but they can be expensive to make. They should also be thinner than an LED screen, but apparently current tech isn't thin enough for Apple, based on these reports.

Supposedly, Apple is looking to LG and Samsung for an even thinner solution: hybrid OLED. The names differ – Samsung calls its panels Ultra Thin (UT) while LG has gone for Advanced Thin OLED (ATO) – but they both use a mix of flexible film and rigid glass to deliver thinner OLED panels without sacrificing quality. Those panels are currently destined for the 2022 iPad Pro.

A bright future for every iPad

The hybrid OLED plans seem a bit odd at first, because we know that Apple has invested heavily in mini-LED plans. But it’s unlikely that Apple has spent tons of money on mini-LED production to just stop after a year or so. What’s more likely is that the iPad Pros will move up to OLED in 2022 and the iPad Air could then move to mini-LED.

That’s a good fit for the good/better/best approach Apple has taken since its Steve Jobs days, as it would help differentiate the different models in the iPad range. For example, Apple could have an iPad range where the entry level iPad has an LED display, the iPad Air has mini-LED and the iPad Pro has OLED.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).