iPhones & iPads could get 3D screens – and you won’t need 3D glasses!

Apple patent 3D screens
(Image credit: Tim Douglas, Pexels)

When 3D viewing first arrived the 1950s, cinema audiences donned red and green cardboard glasses to watch monsters and aliens lunge out of the screen... But most people ended up with severe headaches as a result. 

This issue was partly solved in the 2000s, when the use of polarized light reduced eyestrain and improved picture quality. But when companies started selling 3D televisions, and channels like Sky launched 3D channels, no one wanted to know... because basically, people don’t want to wear cumbersome glasses. 

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Now, though, it seems that Apple has found a way that we can have our 3D cake and eat it.

The company recently filed a patent with the heading of ‘Split-screen driving of electronic device displays’. And the tech it describes means that flat screens on smartphones and tablets will be able to show an image in 3D without the viewer having to wear any glasses or VR headset.

(Image credit: Apple)

The idea is that iPhone and iPad screens will be able to display two different images simultaneously, in a way that will fool your brain into seeing a three-dimensional image. 

Yes, there are already devices that do this, but the patent notes that existing methods are “problematic”, stating: “it can be difficult to provide this type of content on a multi-function device such as a smartphone or a tablet without generating visible artifacts such as motion blur, luminance offsets, or other effects which can be unpleasant or even dizzying to a viewer."

While it doesn’t specifically mention other devices, anyone who’s played games on the Nintendo 3DS, which promises a glasses-free 3D effect, will know what they mean here.

The rest of the patent application goes into a great deal of depth about how Apple plans to resolve these problems, and create a smooth 3D viewing experience on a flat screen without the need for glasses. This is gets hugely technical, but starts from the notion that the screen switches between left and right sides of an image via alternating pixel rows.

The patent is also quite vague about how this will all work on a practical level. It doesn’t state, for example, what angle viewers will need to position their iPhone or iPad at to get the effect. But it does show that Apple is serious about developing this tech, and has put some proper thought into it.

Consider this a long-term thing, though, and not necessarily a sure thing. Apple files patents for new tech all the time, and many of them have never seen the light of day. 

But with applications for both gaming and entertainment, this one seems like a goal that’s very much worth pursuing. Could Digital Camera World’s photography video tutorials soon be coming at you in full 3D, straight from your iPad screen? Here’s hoping…

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Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.