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Recent Apple patent filings explore e-ink, 3D displays

updated 12:30 pm EDT, Thu July 21, 2011

Glasses-free 3D would require multiple OLED panels

Two newly-published Apple patent applications hint at some of the display concepts the company has been exploring, notes AppleInsider. The first, Motion Controllable Dual Display Portable Media Device, depicts a tablet with an e-ink display on either side. By flipping the tablet in different contexts, different commands could be executed.

On a base level, flipping a tablet left or right might switch backwards or forwards between pages in a book. Apple remarks that dual displays could solve one of the major gripes of e-ink, which is the need to refresh a display between images. Tablet firmware could be designed to anticipate a person's next action, and have the right image preloaded on the secondary display before a person flips to it.

More complex commands might involve selecting a word on page and flipping to see the dictionary definition. A tablet might also be flipped end-over-end in one direction to see the table of contents, and in another to write notes. When reading a magazine, a flip might be used to see related articles.

The patent was originally submitted in January 2010. Only a few months later Apple would launch the iPad. In part because the iPad is marketed as an e-reader, Apple may be unlikely to launch an e-ink tablet, since it would cannibalize sales of the more expensive iPad hardware.

The other patent filing, Multilayer Display Device, proposes a 3D display with several layers driven by individual graphics processors. The approach would eliminate the need to use glasses, instead combining multiple transparent OLED panels, which are thinner than conventional LCDs, can operate without a backlight and have better black and contrast levels. The panel furthest from the viewer though would be opaque, and might use LCD or LED technology instead of OLED.

The result would be 3D by lining up several images simultaneously. In Mac OS X this might allow interface elements to be layered, for instance putting active windows on the front OLED and inactive ones on the second. Brightness could also be controlled to further emphasize objects on the front panel versus rear ones.

Such a display might be impractical in real life. OLED screens remain expensive at monitor sizes, and combining multiple panels would add even more cost. Apple has expressed interest in 3D in the past however, and could conceivably place large enough orders to help lower the price barrier.

by MacNN Staff



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