According to a report by Tim Culpan for Bloomberg, Apple began operating the lab "as it aims to make products thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy-efficient."
The report stated that lab employs at least 50 engineers and has recruited talent from display maker AU Optronics Corp. as well as Qualcomm, the former owner of the building.
The lab now features no signage, but Bloomberg reported that the reception area features an Apple logo and an iMac "displaying Apple's standard visitor registration screen."
While the receptionist and security guards all refused to comment on the facility's ownership, government records show that the building is registered to Apple Taiwan, and a staff in the building were observed wearing Apple ID badges.
Bloomberg speculated that Apple might want to "reduce reliance on the technology developed by suppliers such as Samsung Electronics Co., LG Display Co., Sharp Corp. and Japan Display Inc," and instead "develop the production processes in-house and outsource to smaller manufacturers such as Taiwan's AU Optronics or Innolux Corp."
Apple currently uses LCD screens in its Macs and iOS devices and an OLED display for Apple Watch. In passing, the report noted that the Apple lab was "where Qualcomm tried to develop to develop its own displays called Mirasol."
Qualcomm Mirasol displays used an entirely different technology compared to conventional backlit LCDs (which create an image by electrically positioning liquid crystals and then shining visible light through it) or the more recent OLED (which creates an illuminated image from diodes, requiring no backlight and creating deeper blacks).
Qualcomm's IMOD technology uses an array of microscopic mirror-like elements that can reflect light of a specific color. Like OLED, it doesn't require a backlight. It also only uses energy when being being switched on or off; once an image is created, it requires no power to refresh or retain it, similar to E-Ink displays used in e-readers like the Kindle.
Also like E-Ink, IMOD technology maintains full visibility in direct sunlight, unlike LCDs and OLED. But rather than moving around dye like an E-Ink screen, IMOD uses tiny moving mirror-like elements, referred to as being a micro-electro-mechanical system, or MEMS (also known as a "micro-machine"). The downside to IMOD has historically been that it reproduces flat, unsaturated colors, a problem that may be possible to fix.
CNN reported in 2007 that the technology was initially conceptualized by electrical engineer Mark Miles, inspired by Blue Morpho butterflies, which reflect light using nanoscale structures on their wings that cause incoming light waves to interfere with one another, reflecting only specific wavelengths, resulting in the appearance of an iridescent, brilliant color.
Qualcomm acquired Iridigm, Miles' IMOD company, in 2004 for $170 million, hoping to create a market for the IMOD technology it branded Mirasol. However, Qualcomm hasn't been able to find a one. A decade later, the company introduced a Toq smartwatch with an IMOD screen, but the device flopped.
In reviewing the device, CNET noted that "Qualcomm's Mirasol screen on the Toq smartwatch looks brighter in sunlight than other display technology."
This summer, Qualcomm took a $142 million charge on its Mirasol display business, after rumors from a year ago indicated the company's Qualcomm MEMS subsidiary would be selling off its Longtan Mirasol panel plant to Apple's primary chip fab TSMC.
That indicates the possibility that Apple may have acquired more than just the facility, and instead has some interest in using Mirasol IMOD technology, which has long been regarded as a offering an advanced technological breakthrough in enabling a new class of low-power displays for use in phones, tablets or wearables. The reported Qualcomm hires may reinforce this idea.