Apple Invents a Wild New Display that could conceal a Camera, Strobe Flash and/or Fingerprint Scanner until Needed
Every once and a while a very cool idea emerges in a patent that puts a smile on our faces just because we know that Jony Ive and his team (the Crazy Ones) have come up with yet another aesthetically minded industrial design. Today's little gem hits on a number of interesting things. Firstly, Apple has designed a display that could conceal or reveal hidden components behind a display such as a camera and strobe flash so that they could be eliminated as physical features on an iPhone, iPad or other computer. Apple states that "Placing components that would typically be found on the surface of an electronic device enclosure behind a transparent display may increase the surface real-estate of the enclosure for a larger display or additional components. Further, the aesthetics of the electronic device may be greatly enhanced by not cluttering the device enclosure with always-visible components, but instead creating a more seamless electronic device where the components are only visible when they are in use." Secondly, beyond the camera and strobe flash, there's an additional key component that Apple wants to conceal that's noteworthy, and that's a fingerprint scanner.
Apple's Patent Background
Electronic devices are becoming more and more sophisticated, capable of performing a multitude of tasks using a variety of components built into the electronic device. Providing increased functionality often involves adding components to such electronic devices. However, adding more components can lead to a cluttered, unattractive electronic device.
Current techniques for incorporating components into an electronic device may be limited by the relative sizes of the components and the electronic device. The larger the components and the smaller the electronic device, the less spatial area there may be to incorporate additional components.
For example, a small electronic device where a large display covers most of the face of the electronic device may not allow for any additional components, such as a fingerprint reader, to be added to the electronic device.
Furthermore, under the current techniques, adding new components may harm the aesthetic appeal of the device by cluttering the electronic device enclosure, even though these additional components may be seldom or never used by many users. An electronic device that incorporates multiple components may lose its aesthetic appeal when covered by visible components, particularly as compared to a seamless electronic device where very few, if any, components of the electronic device are visible.
Hiding & Revealing Components behind a Display
Apple's Invention generally relates to the industrial design of an electronic device and, more particularly, to techniques for disposing components of an electronic device behind a transparent display. Disposing the components behind the transparent display of the electronic device, may enable the components to remain hidden from view while not in use.
Perhaps most noteworthy are components that, when functioning properly, have traditionally required external exposure to light or that emit light. For example, these "light-dependent components" may include an optical scanner (e.g., a biometric fingerprint scanner), a camera, a strobe, a light sensor, a proximity sensor, or a solar panel.
Disposing components of an electronic device behind a display may provide an aesthetic benefit to the electronic device by allowing the components to remain unseen and hidden behind the display until access to the component is desired, creating a more seamless electronic device.
Furthermore, the size of the display may increase because as components are disposed under the display, more surface real-estate of the device enclosure may become available.
Additionally, because less surface real-estate may be needed to house the light-dependent components, in some embodiments, the electronic device may be reduced in size. Further, the aesthetic value may be greatly increased by allowing exposure to components from areas of the electronic device that a user would traditionally not expect.
Black Spot Regions
When desired, the components of the electronic device may be exposed, allowing the components to suddenly appear as from out of nowhere. In accordance with one design, an electronic device may include a transparent display with a component of the electronic device disposed behind the display. Upon detecting an event associated with the component, a processor of the electronic device may make transparent, or "open," a transparent region (e.g., through generating a local or global black spot) of the display to expose the component.
The black spot may be generated when pixels of the display are not emitting light in certain areas. To provide one example, such an event may occur when a feature of the electronic device requests exposure of concealed components. For example, when a camera application of the electronic device is not in use, a camera and/or associated strobe may remain hidden behind the display of the electronic device. Upon detecting this request, the processor may open one or more transparent regions (e.g., generate black spots), causing the camera and/or the associated strobe to suddenly appear from behind the display.
Overview of the New System
Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrated below is an electronic device (iPhone) for performing the presently invented techniques that may include, among other things, one or more processors, memory, non-volatile storage, a display with one or more transparent regions, image capture device(s) (cameras), an I/O interface, a network interface, input structures, a strobe, and a biometric sensor 34 (e.g., a fingerprint reader).
Apple's patent FIG. 2 represents one embodiment of the electronic device in the form of an iPhone, though the device in reality could be any device such as an iPod, an iPod touch, a handheld game platform, an iPad, a MacBook Pro/Air or any combination of such devices.
Apple states that in certain embodiments, one or more components may become visible when the iPhone is turned off or when a feature is called up. The transparent display may conceal a variety of components of the iPhone such as the camera, the strobe, and/or a biometric sensor such as a fingerprint reader.
Apple states that tuning transparency of a transparent display may result in enhanced usability of components placed behind the transparent display. Placing components that would typically be found on the surface of an electronic device enclosure behind a transparent display may increase the surface real-estate of the enclosure for a larger display or additional components. Further, the aesthetics of the electronic device may be greatly enhanced by not cluttering the device enclosure with always-visible components, but instead creating a more seamless electronic device where the components are only visible when they are in use.
Apple credits Benjamin Rappoport, Christopher Stringer, Fletcher Rothkopf, Jeremy Franklin, John Ternus, Julian Hoenig, Richard Howarth, Scott Myers and Stephen Lynch as the inventors of this patent application which was originally filed under serial number 308119 in Q4 2011. It should be noted that our patent report is based on Apple's "Detailed Description" segment of their patent application. To review Apple's patent claims, see Apple's patent filing. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing to market of such an Apple product is unknown at this time.
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