It’s not here yet but some of the thunder from the upcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona Spain was unleashed last week. LG officially announced the "World’s First 3D Smartphone," the LG Optimus 3D, that will be shown at the February 14th confab on the Iberian Peninsula. The device promises "a full 3D experience right in the palm of the hand," according to the Feb 1st press release, and offers a glasses-free autostereoscopic (AS-3D) display to deliver this.
But LG isn’t alone, and not the first to offer an AS-3D Smartphone. Sharp’s Android-based Galapagos (003SH and 005SH) both offer an AS-3D display using a 3.8-inch LCD. The devices were first shown in Japan in November 2010, and like the LG, will be on hand at MWC this month.
Long-time readers of the Display Daily know we’ve been writing about small AS-3D displays, many of which have been used in handsets, particularly in Japan. As early as 2003 Sharp and wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo partnered up to launched an AS-3D enabled cell phone, long before those devices got "smart." But while the device sold 2.8M units in Japan, the product was discontinued, reportedly because "…the carrier didn’t make money selling related services and products" according to Arthur Berman’s coverage in our July-07 issue of Mobile Display Report (p. 32).
But all this begs the issue, do consumers really want a 3D Smartphone to begin with? Back in 2007 NEC did a study on its prototype 2D/3D cell phone showing users various applications empowered by 3D. The study found the top cell phone applications desired by consumers included 3D "photo-mail," 3D movie, and 3D gaming. Of the group of 345 participants, NEC reported 86% could see the stereoscopic image, 77% considered this a display advancement, and 46% said they wanted to use the technology.
Since the top consumer interest in 3D was "Photo-mail," LG did the right thing and included two cameras in the Optimus 3D so users can take 3D photos of themselves, view them on the phone and e-mail them to friends. For some reason, Sharp omitted this functionality from the Galapagos so end-users cannot generate their own 3D content to look at on the display. Query to Japan: if a user of a LG Optimus e-mails a 3D photo to a friend with a Sharp Galapagos, will the friend be able to see the photo in 3D?
Since the Sharp/NTT DoCoMo 3D experiment in 2003, we’ve seen a complete revolution in the wireless/handheld space, with advances in virtually every aspect of the technology. Perhaps like the Apple Newton, (pre-cursor to the iPad) and the early days of pen computers, 2003 was simply too soon for 3D technology to deliver all that was required for a rich user experience. Lack of content in 2003 and other ecosystem improvements since then like connectivity to a larger 3D display and the processing power and battery life to render mobile 3D games and other Apps fun and useful come to mind.
We think the time is ripe for AS-3D handhelds. Unlike the early 3D phones launched in Japan, LG and Sharp are offering full-blown, hand-held computers by comparison, which come with HDMI and DLNA connectivity. And perhaps more importantly, the Optimus 3D comes equipped with a dual-lens 3D camera allowing users to create their own content for viewing on the small screen, or easy connectivity to a larger 3DTVs. And the only thing more compelling that one’s own image on a display just may be that image in 3D. - Steve Sechrist