Since even before the launch of the iPad last April, there were rumors of Apple moving to a 3D display, mostly based on USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) filings dug up by ambitious Bloggers hoping to get advanced product information. For example, a Baltimore Sun article on January, 4 2010 went into specific details on a "…3D display in a portable multifunction device." Even the UK’s Guardian jumped in with coverage that included digging deep into the patent filing, to find this quote: "…[T]here is a need for electronic devices with touch screen displays that provide more transparent and intuitive user interfaces for navigating in three dimensional virtual spaces and manipulating three dimensional objects in these virtual spaces."
But the iPad launch has come and gone and more than 10M tablets later, still no sign of 3D displays on the hugely popular (now mainstream) tablet device. But hold the phone, there may be good reason why Apple nixed the idea of a 3D display on its portable devices.
Turns out the company is very much interested in 3D displays, but in typical "against the grain" fashion, Apple does not think 3D aided by glasses of any type to be acceptable. Not only that, the traditional barrier rib approach to AS-3D (autostereoscopic or no-glasses) is also inferior.
"A need still remains for highly effective, practical, efficient, uncomplicated and inexpensive auto-stereoscopic 3D displays that allow the observer complete and unencumbered freedom of movement," This according to freshly minted Apple Patent number US20090313584 with an issue date of yesterday (Dec 1, 2010.)
According to the cnet.com.au website on the new 3D projection technology from Apple, "The system would work like this: each pixel would be projected onto a reflective, textured surface, which is then bounced into a viewer’s left and right eye separately, producing the 3D, or stereoscopic, effect. It would sense the locations of both eyes of each viewer, so multiple people could watch from a variety of angles." The report went on to say. In short, no glasses, and no restriction of movement with a full 3D effect for multiple viewers. Perfect, and just what everyone is looking for!
With this patent, Apple seems to be addressing some of the key problems in 3D adoption today. But don’t take that recent Black Friday 3DTV set back to BestBuy just yet. It’s a long road from patent to product, Apple doesn’t have a big screen TV offering, and oh by the way, the technology is based not on flat screen panels, but projection.
Of course, eye-tracked 3D displays are not new or unique to Apple. For example, SeeFront has been developing direct-view, glasses-free, eye-tracked displays since at least 2006 and other companies have worked on the technology as well. We will leave it to the Patent Office to sort out Apple’s patent claims compared to prior-art held by other companies.
We believe AS-3D technology will be first adopted in the digital signage or out of home advertising market, well before it reaches the living room. But the use of a 3D imager to track the observers location and proximity to the display eliminates many of the problems of existing AS-3D displays and may accelerate the adoption in both signage and entertainment applications. And it will be interesting to see just how fast we can move from patent, to prototype, to commercial product.
If you are interested in autostereoscopic 3D displays for digital signage, you should consider getting the December issue of Insight Media’s Large Display Report. This issue contains 12 pages of content dedicated to 2D and 3D digital signage, including coverage of the recent Customer Engagement Technology World trade show in New York. In addition, Insight Media will be publishing an updated AS3D Report in early 2011.