Apple’s R&D team has been on a roll lately. The latest patent application describes an interesting privacy mode on displays for mobile gadgets that can steer display light beams in various directions, allowing only the person directly in front of the display to see its content. Patenty Apple explains:

The new privacy option mode only allows those directly in front of the display to view its content. Anyone on the periphery would simply see a blank display. A number of professions may find this feature very appealing. The patent also vaguely points to this technology being used in association with a future pico-like projection system and/or 3D holographic display.

The invention called “Systems and Methods for Electronically Controlling the Viewing Angle of a Display” is credited to an Apple engineer David Gere. So, how is this CIA-like stuff supposed to work?

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The trick for locking out peripheral viewing is a simple one, Apple argues. Picture elements comprising the display could be controlled by directing a light beam towards a liquid crystal material and steering it via microscopic mirror-like structures that apply a variable electrical control signal to the liquid crystal material. As a result, viewing can be restricted only to the person directly in front of the display. The privacy mode could be entered by touching a dedicated corner that would invoke a software setting for changing viewing angles, Apple wrote. The invention applies to a wide scope of devices, from handheld music players to smartphones to tablets and desktop computers.

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