Is Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s Secret OLED Hire a Game Changer?

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Shareholders of OLED specialist Universal Display Corporation (NASDAQ:PANL) were left shaking their heads Tuesday as their stock suddenly dropped more than 6% in an otherwise uneventful session. Though Universal Display recovered to close up for the day, many were left wondering what spooked the market to cause such a plunge.

So what happened?  Speaking at an investment conference held by Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS) on Tuesday, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook made some disparaging statements about the OLED displays made possible by Universal’s technology and championed by competitors including Samsung and LG Display Co Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:LPL). Instead, he pointed consumers to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s own Retina Display as the best available option, noting it is twice as bright and “create[s] an amazing experience.”

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Going even further, Cook called OLED displays’ color saturation “awful” and stated “If you ever buy anything online and really want to know what he color is, as many people do, you should really think twice before you depend on the color from an OLED display.”

About that new hire…
Curiously enough, that’s also what makes a recent report from the OLED Association so interesting. While Cook’s comments unsurprisingly oppose competitors’ claims of OLED superiority, they also seem to contradict his own company’s recent hiring decisions.

According to the report, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may have just hired Dr. Jeung-jil (James) Lee, a former research fellow from LG and “a senior person in LG Display’s R&D effort to create a printed AMOLED TV.” In addition, the organization noted that, prior to joining LG, “Dr. Lee was responsible for development at Cambridge Display Technology (CDT, now Sumitomo), the leading developer of solution-based polymer based OLED material.”

Of course, while the rumor mill has stirred up plenty of speculation regarding Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s OLED development over the past few years, the notoriously secretive tech giant has yet to provide any concrete information confirming its interest. As competitors like Samsung and LG use OLED to differentiate their own products, however, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has faced scathing criticism for its failure to embrace the technology in its own devices.

Even so, that hasn’t stopped hawk-eyed industry watchers from regularly managing to dig up OLED-related patent applications from Cupertino. Fellow Fool contributor Evan Niu even wrote nearly a year ago that he fully expects Apple to incorporate OLED tech into its displays, albeit nowhere in the near future. After all, given Apple’s unabated love for pleasing aesthetic design, it’s a safe bet the company would love to take advantage of the seemingly endless possibilities offered by OLED displays, which can be made flexible, transparent, and nearly unbreakable. If Apple could offer those kinds of groundbreaking features in its devices going forward, something tells me color saturation would amount to a mere afterthought.

If this recent hire is confirmed, then, an Apple-OLED union could arrive a whole lot sooner than we expect. Given Apple’s unparalleled ability to sell huge numbers of its popular products, if and when that day comes, it would help usher in a new era of widely adopted futuristic displays.

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