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Reports: Apple's wrister to have 1.5-inch OLED, test units being built

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The Apple iWatch rumor mill has rumbled to life yet again, with one report that Apple is sampling 1.5-inch OLED displays for the li'l fellow, and a second that long-time iKit assembler Foxconn has received orders for a test batch of the "wearable computing" device.

On Monday, MacRumors spotted an article in the Japanese Apple-news site Macotakara that reported (Google translation) on two tidbits published by Taiwan's Economic Times discussing the long-rumored iWatch – and, yes, that convoluted trail is indeed how rumors are often disseminated.

The first report (Google translation) in the Economic Times said that Apple is sampling 1.5-inch OLED displays from Ritek spinoff RiTdisplay. Since OLED displays don't require backlighting, they'd be ideal for a compact a bit of shiny-shiny like a wrist-mounted iDevice.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, however, pointedly dismissed OLED technology – for use in smartphones, at least – during a presentation at a Goldman Sacks investors confab this February. In a dig at Samsung, Cook said that their OLED smartphones had color saturation that was "awful."

Maybe an iWatch user won't care about color quality as much as they might about size, weight, and battery life.

Interestingly, the Economic Times report also said that Apple had originally been looking into a 1.8-inch OLED display, but had rejected that one as being too large. The same report noted that Intel's Beijing outpost was involved in the design of what Google charmingly translates in the Economic Times article as a "wisdom watch" (智慧手表), an involvement that surfaced in report from the Chinese site TGBus last December.

Might Intel's new Silvermont Atom microarchitecture have found a lucrative design win? That seems unlikely – that is, if Apple wants to get the iWatch out in time for this year's holiday buying frenzy. But, hey, stranger things have happened.

The second Economic Times report (Google translation) says that the smart watch may be "the killer app of the next generation," and discusses "market rumors" (市場傳聞) which say that Foxconn has already received orders for a small manufacturing run of around a thousand iWatches, presumably for testing both manufacturing techniques and the devices themselves.

That report jibes with a rumor that floated around this February, when The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple and Foxconn were discussing a manufacturing partnership for what the WSJ described as "a watch-like device that would perform some functions of a smartphone."

That would be the iWatch, all right – the elusive device that has been mentioned as a possible Next Big Thing as far back as 2000, when a rumor surfaced that Apple was looking into a wristwatch powered by a Transmeta processor and that ran MacOS.

iWatch rumors were revved up this February when the US Patent and Trademark Office published a slap-to-wear iWatch patent application. They then spun down a bit when it was revealed that the flexy Willow glass from Corning needed for that design was said to be at least three years in the future.

The indefatigable rumor mill, however, cranked up again this March when LG Display CEO Han Sang-beom claimed his company would be able to produce flexy OLED displays by the second half of this year.

Monday's pair of Economic Times reports, however, make no mention of the slap-on-your-wrist capability envisioned by the February patent application. Perhaps Apple design guru Jony Ive and his 100-member iWatch team will be starting out with a simpler design – one with a 1.5-inch OLED display, and manufactured by Foxconn. ®

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