A pair of patent applications from Apple that surfaced this morning in the United States Patent & Trademark Office’s (USPTO) database prove Apple’s been researching 3D displays for mobile devices and personal computers. As always, Apple’s solution is one with a twist. The company is calling for a device with two displays, one on the front and the other on the back, which can be interacted with in order to enhance the e-reading experience on mobile devices, automatically turning on and off as you flip the device around. The twist?

Apple’s been thinking of using a transparent OLED display. The pixels of the OLED panels “may remain transparent”, Apple writes, when an OLED panel is in use. What’s more, the two panels “may be separated by one or more distances or may have varying thicknesses” in order to create the believable perception of depth, without requiring the use of stereoscopic 3D glasses. This could be used in desktop computers as well and separate graphics processors could also adjust the brightness of the front panel and reduce the brightness of the other panels in order to emphasize the foremost user interface elements. Apple writes:

Generally, one embodiment may take the form of a multilayer display device, where each layer is made of a separate element. Each display element may be referred to herein as a “layer” or a “panel,” although any given display element may take any form and may be constructed from any of a variety of materials. For example, a panel may be a relatively thin sheet of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) material, in some embodiments transparent, or a more conventional liquid crystal display with or without backlighting (such as CCFL or light-emitting diode (LED) backlighting), a LED display, e-ink, and so forth. 

The company goes on to mention that OLED panels do not require a backlight to function, meaning they can be “much thinner and lighter” than backlit display panels. Other benefits are counted, such as OLED panels’ ability to render “deep black levels” resulting in “a high contrast ratio”. OLED panels are also known for drawing “a relatively small amount of power” for the light produced. The documents credit Apple engineers Peter H. Mahowald and Benjamin A. Rottler. To get more information about this invention, enter the patent application numbers 20110175902 and 20110175805 into the USPTO search engine.

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