Apple Invents Under-Display Sensors that could one-day Eliminate the iPhone Notch
Earlier today Patently Apple posted a patent report titled "Apple Reveals more about their Under-Display Touch ID System for Future iPhones and beyond." In a second patent published today by the US Patent & Trademark Office we learn that Apple may go much further than just adding an under-display optical system for Touch ID but rather adding 2D and 3D cameras and a series of sensors under the displays so as to eliminate the iPhone notch altogether.
More specifically, Apple's patent relates to optical sensing, and more particularly to under-display optical sensing. When an optical sensor is positioned under a light-emitting display, a portion of the device's display surface does not have to be reserved for the optical sensor, and in some cases the size of the device's display may be increased. Translation: elimination of the notch.
An under-display optical sensor may variously include an optical transmitter, an optical receiver, an optical transceiver, or multiple optical transmitters, optical receivers and/or optical transceivers. In some cases, multiple optical sensors may be provided under a device's display, and may be used to perform the same or different functions.
An under-display optical sensor may be used, for example, as a proximity sensor (or ranging sensor), an ambient light sensor, a fingerprint sensor, a camera (2D or 3D), a wireless communicator or controller, a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor (e.g., a short pulse optical source and a single-photon avalanche-diode (SPAD) detector or SPAD array), and so on. One or more optical transmitters, without corresponding optical receives, may also be positioned under a display (e.g., for providing flood illumination, a flashlight, or an optical pointer (e.g., an infrared (IR) pointer)). In some embodiments, an optical transmitter and/or receiver may be provided under a display, and an optical transmitter and/or receiver may be provided adjacent the display.
In some cases, it may be desirable to determine whether an object or user is proximate to a device, to determine the distance between an object or user and a device, or to determine a velocity or acceleration of an object or user with respect to a device.
It may also be desirable to capture a two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) image of an object or user that is proximate to a device. In some cases, the 2D or 3D image may be an image of a fingerprint, a face, or a scene in a field of view (FoV).
The provision of an under-display optical sensor can maximize the display surface real-estate available for providing a display, and in some cases may enable an edge-to-edge display (i.e., a display that spans 100% of the display surface).
Apple's patent FIGS. 1A & 1B illustrate a future iPhone without a notch and the sensors including face cameras being behind the display as in FIG. 1B; FIG. 2A shows an elevation of the display stack and optical module #202.
The rest of Apple's patent presents various ways of implementing the sensors under the display.
Other sensors listed to be under the display include at least one optical sensor, or an optical receiver or optical transmitter. The sensor system(s) may be configured to sense one or more type of parameters, such as but not limited to, light; touch; force; heat; movement; relative motion; biometric data (e.g., biological parameters) of a user; and so on.
By way of example, the sensor system(s) may include a heat sensor, a position sensor, a light or optical sensor, an accelerometer, a pressure transducer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, a health monitoring sensor, and so on.
Additionally, the one or more sensor systems may utilize any suitable sensing technology, including, but not limited to, capacitive, ultrasonic, resistive, optical, ultrasound, piezoelectric, and thermal sensing technology.
Apple's patent application that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was filed back in December 2019. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.