Apple patents on the matter of quantum dot displays began to surface in 2014. A second patent surfaced in 2016 and then there was a flurry of quantum dot related patents that emerged in H2 2017 (01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06) including one for with a "hybrid Quantum Dot" display.
Today another of Apple's Quantum Dot patents has been published by the U.S. Patent Office titled "Displays with Collimated Light Sources and Quantum Dots." The twist to this particular quantum dot invention is that Apple is integrating a Holographic layer and element into a quantum dot display.
Further into our report we show you videos of a company well ahead of Apple on this front that will provide you with an idea of what Apple is likely working on with today's patent revelations.
If successful, Apple would be able to add a 3D mode to future iPhone and iPad displays that would be able to deliver a powerful immersive experience without users having to wear 3D glasses.
In Apple's patent background they say that electronic devices often include displays. Backlit displays such as backlit liquid crystal displays include backlight units. A backlight unit produces light that travels outwardly through an array of pixels in a display. The pixels modulate the intensity of the light from the backlight unit to create images on the display. Backlight units help ensure that displays can display images in a wide variety of ambient lighting conditions.
However, if care is not taken, backlight units may produce light that does not efficiently illuminate display pixels or that does not allow the display pixels to exhibit desired levels of color performance.
This is where Apple's work on quantum dot technology comes into play. Apple notes that a display may have display layers that form an array of pixels. The array of pixels may include quantum dot elements of different colors. A light source may produce pump light for the quantum dot elements.
When exposed to pump light, the quantum dot elements may emit light for forming images on the display. A liquid crystal layer, thin-film transistor circuitry, and one or more polarizer layers may be used to form pixel structures in the display layer that modulate the light intensities of individual pixels.
At the present time we have no concrete idea what specific products that Apple is thinking of applying quantum dot display to. It's like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Apple throws every product into the mix. Apple states the following in their patent filing:
"An illustrative electronic device of the type that may be provided with a quantum dot display could be a laptop computer, a computer monitor containing an embedded computer, a tablet computer, a cellular telephone, a media player, or other handheld or portable electronic device, a smaller device such as a wrist-watch device, a pendant device, a headphone or earpiece device, a device embedded in eyeglasses or other equipment worn on a user's head, or other wearable or miniature device, a computer display that does not contain an embedded computer, a computer display that includes an embedded computer, a gaming device, a navigation device, an embedded system such as a system in which electronic equipment with a display is mounted in a kiosk or automobile, equipment that implements the functionality of two or more of these devices, or other electronic equipment."
Thanks Apple, that narrows it down for us.
Unless you're an engineer specializing in display technology, you'll find the patent a difficult read. However one thing that stood out is that quantum dot displays may have an advantage with holographic imagery.
Apple points to integrating both a "holographic element" and "holographic layer" to a future quantum dot display. Though in typical Apple fashion, the patent application never really defines what the holographic elements and/or layers would bring to this next-generation display.
Currently there's a company called RED that has developed a smartphone that uses a Light Field Display that originated in an HP Lab and spun off into a company called Leia Inc. The company claims it has developed a new kind of backlighting; something that Apple's patent application is focused on.
The Verge (video report), Engadget (written report) and Marques Brownlee (video report) have covered the RED smartphone and were all kind of vague about the 3D holographic display concept and exactly what it delivered.
One concept is illustrated in the image above and in the second video below of a 3D holographic map displayed on a smartphone.
What is the company aiming for? The graphic below provides you with Leia's big picture overview of where this could go and what their new display technology brings to the table.
In July C/Net presented a video report on a completely different kind of holographic display. C/Net titled their report the "Looking Glass holographic display that Augments your reality."
Which way is Apple going with their Quantum Dot Display that provides a holographic layer and elements? Is it to bring next-generation AR to life on iDevices like the iPhone and iPad? Is it to bring a next-generation of content for an Apple TV to compete with Sony Bravia and Samsung? Or will it be used to deliver stunning mixed reality content for a future headset and/or smartglasses?
For now all we're left with is a technical patent that doesn't provide us much to work with in terms of a specific end device the display is being designed for.
What we do know is that Apple has spent a ton of money on acquisitions such as LuxVue and InVisage to get the upper hand in delivering next generation display technology based on micro-LED and Quantum Dot. They're not spending all of that money to simply improve the Retina display marginally. Whatever they're working on will definitely be significant.
The scope that we presented in the Leia Inc. graphic would certainly be a boon for Apple who has the best brand for computers, mobile devices with their eye on expanding to add smartglasses, a headset, Project Titan and so forth.
Below you will find the two patent figures from Apple's quantum dot patent application that specfically focuses on Holograms as part of the Quantum Dot display. One is for a holographic element while the other is for a holographic layer.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 below is a side view of an illustrative direct-lit light source cell having a light collimation structure such as a holographic element.
Apple's FIG. 15 noted below is a cross-sectional side view of a portion of an illustrative display with a holographic layer with an angularly dependent light transmittance.
And lastly, Apple's patent FIG. 17 below is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display with color filter elements and quantum dot elements of different corresponding colors for forming pixels of different respective colors in a display with a non-inverted thin-film transistor layer display configuration.
Apple's patent application 20180292713 was originally filed back in Q3 2017. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
It's always interesting to see who's behind key Apple projects and the Apple engineers behind this invention are as follows:
Zhibing Ge: Senior Display Engineering Manager / Leading development of display cell optics, process technology platform, new function coatings/films platform, functional electro-optic materials platform.
Ion Bita: Hardware Engineering / New products and new device technologies development: mobile device displays, opto-electronic devices, optical components, capacitive touch sensors; flat panel display development and manufacturing for watch, phone and tablet applications; display technologies: reflective MEMS, micro LED, OLED, LCD.
Ove Lyngnes: Senior Optical Engineer / Extensive experience with design and manufacturing of a broad range of optical and protective coatings in a R&D, development and production environment using non-ion assisted and ion assisted PVD as well as ion beam sputtering (IBS).
Lai Wang: Hardware Engineer / In-depth expertise in front lighting system modeling, display performance prediction, and characterization
John T. Leonard, Ph.D.: Display Technologist at Apple (Device Physics & Data Science)
Jonathan Steckel: Emerging Display Technologies
Yuan Chen: iOS LCD team Tech Lead
Jean-Jacques Drolet: Senior Manager, Display Technologies. He was with Apple for a decade and left Apple in October 2017.
Dmitry Sizov: Senior Hardware Engineer. He came to Apple via Corning.
Xiaobin Xin: Technologist
Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications and/or granted patents with associated graphics 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 full and accurate details.