The US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application of Apple's yesterday that revealed one of the next chapters for Apple's top line displays. The patent describes a method of allowing a user to steer display light beams in various directions to effectively provide themselves with a new privacy option. The new privacy option mode only allows those directly in front of the display to view its content. Anyone on the periphery would simply see a blank display. A number of professions may find this feature very appealing. The patent also vaguely points to this technology being used in association with a future pico-like projection system and/or 3D Holographic Display.
The Problem to Solve
Many electronic devices include the ability to present visible information to a user. In particular, many cellular telephones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices include a display screen for projecting light beams representative of device generated information to one or more viewers. Often, a user of the device may choose to share this displayed information with others looking at the device from various angles with respect to the screen, while, in other situations, the user may only want a person positioned directly in front of the screen to be able to see the displayed information. However, due to processing limitations, display limitations, size limitations, and other limitations of such electronic devices, a user must generally shield the display screen away from unintended viewers or aim the display screen towards only an intended viewer.
Apple's Invention Applies to a Wide Scope of Devices
Apple's patent illustrates a handheld device noted as patent point # 200 presented below. Although the device is that of an iPod Classic, the fact is that the patent is primarily focused on practical everyday portables. Yet in the larger picture Apple clarifies that the invention could apply to any of the following devices:
"A music player, video player, still image player, game player, other media player, music recorder, movie or video camera or recorder, still camera, other media recorder, radio, medical equipment, domestic appliance, transportation vehicle instrument, musical instrument, calculator, cellular telephone, other wireless communication device, personal digital assistant, remote control, pager, computer (e.g., desktop, laptop, tablet, server, etc.), monitor, television, stereo equipment, set up box, set-top box, boom box, modem, router, keyboard, mouse, speaker, printer," and any device that could use telephonic services."
The Main Focus of the Patent
The main focus of Apple's patent appears to be about a method of controlling the viewing angle of a display so that a user could implement a unique privacy type of function that restricts viewing of the display to only the one looking at the display directly in front of it. All peripheral viewing is locked out by controlling display elements that the patent painfully describes in detail.
Apple lists one of the applications as relating to a "transportation vehicle instrument." Think of a driver being able to view various gauges in his direct view of the road in the form of a sharp light display that only the driver could view. The passenger would never see what the driver sees and causes no distractions. Think of school computers not allowing students to cheat by looking at their neighbors display. The invention could be of value to any industry where there's a need to keep files and images private such as in the legal, medical or law enforcement fields. On the lighter side of things, it could be of benefit to those riding a bus, subway, train or even a plane. Those sitting or standing beside you wouldn't be able to figure out what you're working on, what game you're playing or what content you're viewing. This feature certainly has it's advantages.
The patent states that a method may include directing a light beam towards a liquid crystal material and steering the light beam. The steering may include applying a variable electrical control signal to the liquid crystal material. You could get an idea of how this would work by reviewing patent FIG. 3 below which illustrates a series of mirror-like structures that could control the directions of the display's light beams.
Apple's Patent Points to Next-Gen Displays & Projection Systems
In a particular segment of their patent, Apple discusses the types of display and projection systems that could be used in connection with their new invention.
In respect to display, Apple lists LCD, LED, OLED, a surface –conduction electron-emitter display SED (which is a flat panel color television technology), a carbon nanotube display (an e-paper-like display), a nanocrystal display (or Quantum Dot Display – for better battery life), or any other suitable type of display, or combination thereof.
Alternatively, the display related to Apple's invention could include a display coupled to device or a "movable display" (think hybrid desktop) states Apple's patent, or a "projecting system for providing a display of content on a surface remote from electronic device, such as, for example, a video projector, a head-up display, or a three-dimensional (e.g., holographic) display." Apple first discussed a video projector in the very same way back in 2009 which is likened to a pico-like projector. Likewise, Apple first revealed a 3D holographic display back in 2008 in context with an entertainment system like a home theater. Another part of this patent also covers Apple's iOS based camera view finder and reflex cameras as being one of the offshoots of their invention.
How the User Enters Privacy Viewing Mode
How the user will actually enter privacy viewing mode is illustrated in Apple's patent FIG. 2A's patent point 210 below. Here we see that touching a corner of a future display will pull up a touch event option allowing the user to "change angle." This will provide the user with options of entering various modes such as privacy and others.
It should be noted that although the patent example uses a Classic iPod, the patent makes it clear that the invention relates to any touch screen based device. In respect to patent illustrations, a patent's only obligation is to convey a concept and doesn't have to present the actually finished product. The filing of a separated device design patent is set aside for that. So don't get caught up into the illustration showing an older iPod. The patent is a current patent, so put that into context.
Technically Speaking: Controlling a Display's Beam Steering Module
How the invention achieves changing the display's angle is buried in extreme detail within this patent. Our report only provides you with a grand overview and over simplified explanation.
Apple's patent FIG. 2B shown below illustrates a horizontal cross-sectional view of a portion of electronic device which may include an array of display subassemblies 220 (e.g., an array including display subassemblies 220a-220k). Each display subassembly may include a respective image generating module 222, a respective beam steering module 224, and a respective beam scattering module 226.
Each liquid crystal optical element of each steering module 224 may function as an optical "wedge," such that a linear gradient in the index of refraction of the element may provide a "beam steering" effect.
in some embodiments, a liquid crystal optical element may provide a "wedge angle" controllable by a variable control voltage applied to the liquid crystal optical element, such that light beams may be "steered" dynamically under electronic control, for example, without mechanical movement of the beam steering module itself. Thus, the "steering" effect achieved by the liquid crystal optical element may be an electronically controllable change in the direction of beam propagation.
Apple's patent FIG. 2C noted above is a top view of the electronic device and display assembly of FIGS. 2A and 2B, taken from line IIC-IIC of FIG. 2B. Apple's patent FIG. 3 is an isometric view of a display subassembly.
Apple credits David Gere as the sole inventor of patent application 20110116017, originally filed in Q4 2009.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. Patents shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple patents represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
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