On August 25, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a wild new concept relating to privacy glasses. While the new specs will be applauded by both professionals and multi-player-gamers alike – gamers may get the added thrill of tapping into the specs' 3D capabilities. While we covered Apple's initial patent regarding privacy-mode viewing in May of this year, it appears as though this project has taken on dramatic new twists. As computer users shift more towards using mobile devices like iPads and MacBooks as their primary devices, and use them more and more in public spaces, privacy-viewing is going to be an essential feature for all future mobile devices. Apple is out to be first and more importantly, the best in delivering this essential new feature and/or accessory.
Overview of Apple's Invention
Apple's invention covers systems and methods for adjusting the manner in which information is provided by a display such that only an authorized user having an appropriate filter could view the displayed information. In some embodiments, this is directed to simultaneously displaying different sets of information such that the different users could simultaneously and independently view different sets of information.
In some embodiment, the display could have a large viewing angle so that a user could view the information from positions other than straight ahead. While this may allow users to easily view displayed information, the information could also be visible to other people in the user's environment. When a user is displaying confidential or personal information, however, a user may not wish that the information be easily visible to all.
To prevent this, some users could place a plastic screen over the display, where the screen reduces the viewing angle of the display to a very narrow angle substantially perpendicular to the display. This approach, however, does not prevent other people behind the user (e.g., within the narrow viewing angle) from viewing the information displayed by the device. In addition, the screen could greatly reduce the amount of light reaching the user from the display, and therefore decrease the user's experience, and may force the user to sit directly opposite the display.
An electronic device could include a display operative to provide information to a user. In some cases, a user may direct the electronic device to display confidential or private information. To prevent unauthorized users from viewing the information over the authorized user's shoulder, for example, the electronic device could obfuscate the display of the information in one or more regions of the device. For example, the electronic device could add artifacts to the display to obscure portions of the displayed information. As another example, the electronic device could adjust display properties of the information (e.g., color or polarity) such that the information appears obscured. In some embodiments, the electronic device could apply a reversible transformation to the displayed information.
Reverse Transformations: Different Types of Filters
To view the obfuscated information, the user could place a filter between the device display and the user's eyes. The filter could correspond to the particular obfuscation approach used for securing the display of the information. In some embodiments, the filter could be static, such that only a fixed set of obfuscation processes work with the filter. Alternatively, the filter could be dynamic such that it could adjust the manner in which it filters based on the obfuscation process used by the electronic device. In some cases, a dynamic filter could be used to reverse a transformation applied to displayed information.
The electronic device could determine which obfuscation process to use using any suitable approach. In some embodiments, the electronic device could identify a user or a filter, and select an obfuscation process that corresponds to the user or filter. For example, the electronic device could capture an image of a filter, and determine attributes of the filter from the image. As another example, the electronic device could receive from the filter an obfuscation process to use. As still another example, the filter could receive from the electronic device a reverse transformation to apply to displayed information.
Apple's patent FIG. 4A shown below is a schematic view of an illustrative un-obfuscated display that applies a reverse transformation technique or effect. Patent FIG. 4B is a schematic view of the display of FIG. 4A obfuscated by a transformation. Display 400 could include information 410 provided to a user. To prevent unauthorized viewing of this information, the electronic device could apply a transformation of the information, resulting in obstructed information 460 in display 450.
The electronic device could apply any suitable reversible transformation to transform information into obstructed information. For example, the electronic device could rotate, distort, scale, reflect, shear, or apply combinations of these effects to information. In some embodiments, the electronic device could apply several transformations based on different origins (e.g., rotate around different points).
The transformation could be selected based on any suitable criteria, including for example processing capabilities and other available resources of the device (e.g., use a more complex transformation if the processor has sufficient resources and the device has adequate power), the level of security required (e.g., whether the user is in a public location), the type of filter available to the user to remove the transformation, or combinations of these.
When the electronic device provides an obfuscated display, such as is noted above in FIG. 4B, a user may require a filter to remove the obfuscation and view and interact with the underlying information. To operate properly, the user could position the filter between the display and the user's eyes so that portions of the obfuscated information could be removed or adjusted before reaching the user. In particular, the filter could serve to remove obfuscations added by the device, such that the portions of the image passing through the filter include substantially only the un-obfuscated information. In effect, the user may view the filter, and see on a surface of the filter the un-obfuscated information.
The filter could be provided in any suitable format. For example, the filter could be provided as part of glasses. FIG. 5 is a schematic view of an illustrative filter incorporated in glasses. Eyepieces 510 and 512 could include filter elements 520 and 522, respectively. Filter elements could include the same or different components. For example, filter elements 520 can 522 could both be selected to remove a particular type of obfuscation (e.g., and be the same or different).
Many professionals will appreciate this advanced form of privacy, be they doctors, professors or attorneys. Attorneys are used to having their laptops open in court and the ability to apply varying privacy-mode techniques to hide thier information from prying eyes would be appreciated.
The Glasses Could View 3D Content
Alternatively, each filter element could be selected to remove a different type of obfuscation. This approach could be desirable, for example, if displayed information is provided as two offset images providing three-dimensional content (e.g., two obfuscated images are provided simultaneously and obfuscated differently, where the images are offset to correspond to three dimensional content).
Varying Filter Treatments
The filters could be constructed from any suitable material and include any suitable treatment to remove obfuscation. For example, the filters could include optical or other treatments to remove particular types of obfuscations (e.g., color-based, frequency based, or polarization-based) on a transparent or translucent material. The treatments could include, for example, coatings (e.g., color or polarized coatings), embedded particles in a material, treatments to the structure of the material (e.g., molecular structure or alignment of material particles), movable optical components (e.g., movable reflectors directing light through different regions of the filter), or combinations of these. The particular treatment selected for a filter could depend on any suitable criteria, including for example the type of obfuscation used by the device.
In some embodiments, the filter could include a dynamic component. For example, the filter could include or be coupled to circuitry (e.g., as part of glasses 500) operative to adjust the manner in which the filter operates. The circuitry could adjust the un-obfuscation process of the filter, for example by adjusting the polarity of the filter, or the wavelength of light that is absorbed by the filter. In some embodiments, the circuitry could adjust the molecular structure of the filter. In some embodiments, the circuitry could control reflectors or other mechanical components of the filter that could direct light passing through the filter.
Just a Thought
Although Apple's patent doesn't spell it out, I'm sure that privacy glasses could also be designed like snap-on sunglasses so that those with prescribed lenses could take advantage of this technology. Considering that one of the primary user or target groups for this invention would be business and professional users, with many being over the age of 40, the need for a snap-on type of glasses would be very high. I'm sure that there's going to be a lot of room here for third party developers to get involved and creative so as to meet varying needs in the market for this type of accessory.
The Initial Set-Up for Privacy
According to Apple's engineers, the electronic device could require an initial setup for associating a user with a particular filter or with particular properties or attributes of a filter (e.g., the un-obfuscating capabilities of a filter). For example, a user could provide authentication information, and provide information identifying one or more filters to associate with the authentication information. If a user does not have or does not know the particular attributes of a filter, the user could direct the device to attempt several obfuscation techniques, and provide an input indicating whether the filter is effective to un-obfuscate the particular technique used. This trial and error approach could be continued until one or more suitable techniques (e.g., techniques that obfuscate information but are un-obfuscated by the filter) are discovered.
In some embodiments, the electronic device could instead or in addition determine the capabilities of the filter from a communication occurring over a communications link established between the electronic device and the filter. For example, one or both of the electronic device and the filter could include a RFID tag and a RFID reader, such that the electronic device and filter could detect each other's presence. The RFID tag could include any suitable information, including for example a code or other content describing the obfuscating or un-obfuscating capabilities of the electronic device and filter, respectively. As another example, one or both of the electronic device and filter could include a tag broadcast or receivable over a Bluetooth or WiFi protocol, or over any other NFC protocol.
The Invention Could Also Apply to Multi-Player Games
In Apple's patent FIG. 6 below we see a schematic view of an illustrative display having two distinct regions obfuscated in different manners. Display 600 could include first region 610 and second region 620, where information is displayed in each region. In some embodiments, the particular information displayed in each of the regions could be different, and associated with different users of the device. For example, regions 610 and 620 could each be associated with hide users' battleship boards in a battleship game, where each board includes ships 612 and 622, respectively, and shot markers 614 and 624, respectively.
To obfuscate the other user's region from view, while allowing a user to view his own region (e.g., not view his opponent's board but view his own board), each region could be obfuscated using different approaches, where the obfuscation of each region can be removed using a filter used by the user of the region. In the example of FIG. 6, region 610 could be obfuscated by elements 616, while region 620 could be obfuscated by elements 626.
Although elements 616 and 626 are shown to be discreet elements, it will be understood that any suitable approach could be used to obfuscate the regions of display 600, including for example adding discrete elements to a display, changing display characteristics of the display (e.g., refresh rate, color spectrum, or polarity), or combinations of these. Using an appropriate filter, each user could view his region of display 600 without the elements 616 or 626, and thus view the underlying information, but may not be able to view the underlying information in the other region of the display. This could ensure privacy in a multi-user environment.
Head Tracking Techniques
In some embodiments, the electronic device could instead or in addition adjust the viewing angle of regions of the display. The viewing angle for each region could be oriented away from the center of the device, and in some cases could change dynamically to follow a user's position relative to the display (e.g., follow the user's head). In some embodiments, several regions could each be associated with several viewing angles so that different users could simultaneously view different information privately on the display.
Using the approach of FIG. 7 above, several users could view and interact with different content simultaneously (such in the gaming scenario outlined in FIG. 6 above). In particular, each of the several users could position themselves within respective fields of view 712, 722 and 732 to view the information in corresponding regions 710, 720 and 730.
In some embodiments, a user could move relative to the display as the user uses the electronic device. To assist a user in viewing displayed information even when the user changes orientations relative to the display, the electronic device could track the position of the user's head or eyes. When the electronic device determines that the user's head or eye position has changed, the electronic device could direct the display to dynamically adjust the orientation of the field of view to reflect the new detected position of the user. This approach could be particularly useful if a single user is viewing information on the device. In particular, the device could adjust the viewing angle for the entire display, no matter the orientation of the user's head relative to the display.
If several users are viewing information on the device simultaneously, the electronic device could first determine whether a user is entering a field of view associated with another user. For example, the electronic device could determine whether the user whose head position was initially within field of view 712 has moved and encroached on field of view 722. If the electronic device determines that the user's position is only approaching another field of view without encroaching on it, the device could adjust the user's field of view. If, on the other hand, the electronic device instead determines that the user's position is encroaching on another user's field of view, the electronic device could limit the new field of view of the user. In some cases, the device could instead or in addition stop displaying restricted or confidential information in the encroached field of view, and indicate the encroachment to the users of the device. The user whose field of view was encroached (e.g., the user associated with field of view 722) could then elect to ignore the encroachment, or wait for the other user to leave the field of view.
Applies to General Applications as Well
The electronic device could secure the display of any suitable information using one or more of the approaches described above (e.g., combine an obfuscation-type approach with a field of view-type approach). In some embodiments, the electronic device could secure the display of particular types of information. For example, the electronic device could secure the display of user names and passwords, or content accessed once a user name and password have been provided. Such information could include, for example, financial records, communications records (e.g., email and text messages), utilities accounts, message board postings, or combinations of these. In some embodiments, the electronic device can instead or in addition secure the display of particular applications. For example, word processing, image processing, media processing, browsing, time management, calendar, contact applications, or combinations of these could be secured. In some embodiments, only some portions of these applications can be secured (e.g., only secure text documents that are stored in a particular location, or that have specific tags).
Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q4 2010 by inventors Andrew Hodge, Gloria Lin, Tyler Mincey and Benjamin Rottler.
Although the invention is primarily aimed at iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, it could also be applied to Apple's MacBooks and iMac consumer computers – if not a television, considering that the patent points to a plasma display as one option. Of course that's where playing Multi-Player Games would rock.
Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today
Apple's Voice Control
Apple's Voice Control patent application surfaced today under number 20110208524. The patent graphic as you could see above matches the real-world Voice Control iPhone feature graphic. While voice control is now functional on the iPhone for making calls and interacting with iTunes, the patent hints that voice controls could expand into other user interests such as exercise, financial transactions, subscriptions, calendars and television shows. The latter would suggest that Voice Controls may be coming to Apple's Remote. Whether these new voice control features will be expedited with the use of Siri and Nuance technologies is unknown at this time.
Apple Wins Design Patents
Apple has been granted two iOS Icon designs for "Settings" & "Playlists." The information about these granted patents didn't surface until very late Tuesday or early Wednesday of this week. They're usually published early Tuesday morning. Write it off as holiday delays.
Notice: Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications 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. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more.
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