3d images

Future iPhones Could Display 3D Images Without ‘Apple Glass’

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Apple is investigating how to present an Apple AR 3D image on a flat screen, like that of an iPhone or iPad.

Just because Apple has successfully patented a new technology doesn’t automatically mean there will be a future product that uses it. Sometimes the patent is the smallest glimpse of a bigger plan that leaves you wondering what else is going on around it.

Such is the case with the newly issued patent called “Split Screen Driving of Electronic Device Displays”. Apple is pretty clear about what it does, but the patent discussion is so specific that it leaves you wondering.

What Apple describes here is the ability to display a 3D image on a flat screen. Thus, an aniPad or an iPhone could display AR or VR video without the user having to wear a headset like “Apple Glass”.

“[It] can be difficult to deliver this type of content on a multifunction device such as a smartphone or tablet,” says Apple, “without generating visible artifacts such as motion blur, luminance shifts, or other effects that can be unpleasant, even dizzying to a spectator.”

“Apple Glass”, or any headset, will position a screen in front of each eye. They work together, but the two are separate. It’s not like it’s simple to send separate images to each screen and keep them in sync, but what each eye sees is under the control of the device.

With an iPhone or iPad lying flat on your desk or held in your hand, the device can’t rely on which direction you’re looking. It also can’t rely on you looking, although Apple has already filed at least one gaze detection patent.

What this newly revealed patent doesn’t cover is how a user can look at the screen, how precisely they need it to hold the device. What it does cover, however, is how the display works to achieve this.

It starts with how we’ve seen flat screens do this before – in feature films.

“For example, a movie theater may provide patrons with polarized or colored glasses or goggles that visually separate two simultaneous (and usually overlapping) images which, due to the separation of the viewer’s eyes, add three-dimensional depth to the images concurrent displays,” Apple said.

“This depth can be used to deliver virtual reality (VR) content in which an immersive three-dimensional computer-generated environment is created for the user,” the patent continues, “and/or to deliver augmented reality (AR) content ) in which computer-generated content is added to a direct or camera-generated view of the real environment surrounding the user.”

As long as you can split the image so that there is one for each eye, you can evoke the 3D effect. Apple doesn’t describe ways to ensure each eye is entirely blocked from seeing what’s intended for the other, but it does detail how the screen can display two different images.

“A display comprises an array of display pixels,” Apple explains. “The display pixel array is organized into pixel rows and pixel columns.” The patent notes that these displays usually “actuate rows of pixels sequentially from top to bottom of an array of pixels”, but this is not necessarily the case.

Detail of the patent showing the pixels of a screen controlled as two independent screens

In fact, it shouldn’t be. However you present two images, doing it one row of pixels at a time “can cause a systematic luminance shift visible for the left and right portions of the display” when the image is split screen.

“This can be especially problematic if strobing or pulsing backlighting is implemented to reduce motion blur,” Apple continues.

Apple’s proposal is that different rows of pixels be controlled separately and used to display the two different images. “[In] split-screen mode, the rows of pixels… work alternately.”

The majority of the patent goes on to describe different display technologies, as well as different methods of ensuring images are preserved over time.

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