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Apple patent would lead to hybrid e-paper, LCD displays

updated 10:05 am EDT, Thu April 7, 2011

Apple patents hybrid e-paper and LCD display

A US patent discovered Thursday suggested Apple has been developing a possible breakthrough in display technology for future iPads and iPhones. Its "Systems and Methods for Switching Between an Electronic Paper Display and a Video Display" would not only put e-paper and regular display technology in the same screen but would use elements of both on the spot. Different regions could flip over to e-paper for reading, AppleInsider read in its example, but it could also flip some or all of it back for color or video content.

The system would auto-tune the backlighting depending on what choice of display material was active and could even adjust based on automatic criteria rather than by the app or after a command. It could recognize fast-moving content to switch to the regular display but could also go to e-ink if it detected black-and-white or grayscale content.

Its system would work by having a translucent e-paper layer sitting below the touch layer but above the LCD or any other conventional technology. Such layering would let full-color content work below, even if most of the screen was still using e-paper.

Apple first filed for the patent in October 2009 and is only having its application published today. Like most patents, it doesn't guarantee a real shipping product. The use of an iPhone as an example template at least suggested it was considering a tangible application.

The display if it became real would likely be a way to counter criticism from Amazon and from users about the problems of using current Apple mobile devices outside. Although its screens are bright, the need for a backlight and the glossy glass surface can make them hard to use outdoors versus a Kindle or an outdoor-ready computer display like Pixel Qi's 3qi. A switchable, hybrid screen would offer the advantages of both.

by MacNN Staff



  1. paulc

    Joined: Dec 1969



    just get over yourself apple, have a matte screen available! I do NOT need a tablet or a phone to be a make-up mirror, nor do I want to read and or view video while seeing my face staring back at me!

  1. tortenteufel

    Joined: Dec 1969



    maybe a make-up mirror is just the thing for you when you don't like the face staring back at you.....

  1. Inkling

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Good idea, implementation dubious

    It's a good idea and I'm glad to see Apple recognizing, however indirectly, that ePaper is easier to read (and not just in bright sunlight). Of course, since the idea is so obvious, I'd hate to see it 'earn' a patent. The market is full of two-layered screens (touch + LCD). What's so special about three (touch+ePaper+LCD)? It'd be like getting a patent on a car with five wheels or one with two radios (AM/FM + satellite).

    Implementing is more dubious. An iPad is already a bit too heavy to hold and read comfortably. This'd only make matters worse and that ePaper screen isn't going to be completely transparent.

    I suspect that Apple still doesn't get what Amazon is doing. The wonder of the Kindle 3 is that its a little sliver of a device that:

    1. Costs 1/3 the price of an iPad

    2. Runs for a month off a single charge.

    3. Slips easily in a coat pocket but holds thousands of books.

    4. Has a model with free and near-global cellular for the life of the device.

    Yes, it's a speciality device, basically good only for looking at fixed blocks of text and B&W graphics, and it does aid and abet Amazon's growing monopoly on online book sales. But, contra Steve Jobs, it does well what a lot of us spend a lot of time doing--reading. My only real gripe is that awful keyboard. I like to take notes on what I read. Adding support for a Bluetooth keyboard would fix that problem for almost nothing.

    The Kindle is also small enough and cheap enough to evade the 'two devices is too much trouble' rule. When I head for a library to write, I often carry my MacBook and aging Kindle 1. I wouldn't do that with an iPad. It's too big, too heavy, too power-hungry, and, if stolen, too pricey.

    Both Amazon and Apple could benefit from more competition. I'm hoping Amazon creates an iPad-like color device, even if it specializes in media consumption. And I'd be delighted if Apple came up with an iOS device with an ePaper-only screen that's the coat-pocket size of the Kindle 3. It'd be perfect as an office-on-the god. Except for gaming, pictures, and video, most iPhone/iPad apps would work fine if Apple's development tools allowed adding a B&W interface.

  1. Foe Hammer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple Doesn't Get It, Mr. or Ms. Inkling?

    With the ability to switch between the regular display and an e-paper display in an iPad, the 'two devices is too much trouble' rule would be rendered moot. Apple's going to light an e-fire here if and when this becomes available in an iPad - fueled ironically enough in away that allows the Kindle to live up to its name.

  1. wrenchy

    Joined: Dec 1969


    @ Inkling

    Ohhh be prepared for the flood of down votes from the clowns.

    How dare you say anything negative about Apple?

    - Sent from my Android Device.

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