John Doerr explains the technology behind LuxVue at Techcrunch Disrupt on Sept. 11, 2013.
Apple's reported acquisition of LuxVue, a developer of micro-LED displays, attracted much attention — not for the purchase price (which remains undisclosed), but rather what it could mean for the Cupertino, Calif. company's "new category" of product, frequently mentioned by CEO Tim Cook in recent months.
Is LuxVue providing the display technology for the long-rumored iWatch?
Apple would not confirm the acquisition, and only offered its boilerplate response when asked by Techcrunch on Friday. A company spokesperson said, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."
Famously secretive, Apple's acquisition strategy remains opaque, making it difficult to determine whether an acquisition is for longterm experimentation or an upcoming product.
However, buried in the background noise of its quiet acquisition are several hints as to what Apple may have in store for LuxVue — and they all seem to point to an iWatch.
How so? First let's go about eight months back to September 11, when John Doerr, a partner at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, gave a presentation atTechcrunch Disrupt. During the presentation, Doerr specifically mentioned LuxVue — which he called "a breakthrough in displays" — as one of his firm's investments, even going as far as explaining the technology behind it.
"Instead of having a bright white light and then filtering away the colors you don't want, at every pixel, it puts down two red, two green, two blue directly emissive LEDs," Doerr said. "This will deliver nine times better brightness … with lower battery requirements."
The idea of a smartphone offering nine times better brightness while improving battery life is indeed enticing. But it's his next statement, which seems to have flown under the radar until now, that really offers the biggest clue as to what Doerr is envisioning with LuxVue.
if somebody was gonna make a really great watch, you might want to use it thereif somebody was gonna make a really great watch, you might want to use it there," he said.
That may sound like a random, blue-sky statement about LuxVue's possible applications, until you remember Doerr's close relationship with Apple. He was a longtime friend of late company cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs, and was an early supporter of the iPhone when it was still attempting to prove its viability to the rest of the mobile world.
In fact, Doerr announced a $100 million developer "iFund" on the same day Appleannounced its iPhone SDK in 2008. Given that history, it's not a stretch to say that Doerr has a very close relationship with Apple, and likely has knowledge of unreleased products that he can't publicly discuss.
But that doesn't mean Doerr can't give us tantalizing clues in the meantime. Another thing we noticed: During his explanation of LuxVue, Doerr was seen wearing what appears to be a Jawbone Up fitness tracker and a digital watch on the same wrist. Pure happenstance? Or wink-wink, nudge-nudge signaling to his colleagues in the know who were watching the presentation?
Remember, Cook has been seen wearing his own fitness tracker, the Nike FuelBand, for some time now, and recent reports indicate that the Nike and Apple may be working on a new wearable device together. So the appearance of Doerr wearing a fitness tracker, while holding an iPhone and talking about the possibilities of an innovative micro-LED display on a watch, are not insignificant.
Also, consider the corporate DNA of LuxVue itself: Kapil Sakariya, the company's vice-president of technology, is a former Apple engineer. From 2006 to 2008, Sakariya worked as a display architect on the iPhone, iPod, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Then, from 2008 to 2011, he worked as the group manager for iPhone Operations and Procurement.
Sakariya joined LuxVue in November 2011. A year later, in December 2012, LuxVue filed a patent for a special method of "forming an array of micro LEDs for transfer to a receiving substrate." Simply put, the patent describes the manner by which LuxVue can place a tiny display on the surface of a device like, say, a wearable computer.
With nearly $159 billion in cash, Apple has the ability to acquire a vast number of companies, but has historically been conservative when it comes to snapping up new companies. So any new Apple acquisition involving innovative technology like LuxVue immediately stirs speculation as to what the deal might mean for upcoming products.
In this case, all the iWatch clues are there. But until Apple makes a formal announcement, or we find a leak, any acquisition by the company remains a mystery. But as mysteries go, it looks like we may finally have — thanks to Doerr's major hint back in 2013 — our most solid indication that the Apple iWatch is real, and coming soon.