Apple applies for privacy-themed display patent

Say you are at a public place like a park or maybe a restaurant or perhaps in a airport terminal and you want to watch something that, well, might not be kid friendly on your laptop or tablet or smartphone. There's always the risk that someone, either by accident or by deliberate eavesdropping, will see what you are watching. So how do you prevent that kind of thing from taking place? According to a patent filed by Apple in November of 2009 but discovered this week, the company is working on a display technology that can control the viewing angle of a display.

The patent, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, would allow LCD displays to have some kind of modules inside that could be steered.  These modules, in theory, could move the lights behind the display. The effect of such technology would be that if an owner of a laptop, tablet or smartphone hit a "privacy mode" button, the liquid crystal elements could be turned in the display itself. That would, again in theory, keep others from seeing what you are looking at while you are still able to see everything on the screen clearly.

Apple said in its patent filing that this technology was being developed specifically to "shield the display away from unintended viewers". With the rise of smartphones, tablets and laptops by the general public it would seem like this kind of technology would be welcomed by most users. There's no word when, or even if, this technology would be put in future Apple products.

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39 Comments

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steve just doesn't want us PC users to see any of his motivational blurbs to Mac users
like how Macs don't get viri/malware
and how cool you look with your new iWhatever even though your now broke
and follow this link to watch me (Steve) pole dance naked on a pile of your money

They better not claim a patent on angle based screen privacy because I totally saw something like that in Japan 6 years ago. They could claim the technology maybe, not the concept.

I only say this because I can see Apple doing it.

Hmm..... I would think it would be easier to just design a display mode that can be easily switched to, that would essentially make whatever is on the screen jumbled or generally unviewable without a special pair of glasses or something.

Yet another patented idea that was floating around before. Microsoft suggested this a while back for 3D displays, and suggested they could create private 3D by focusing it at one point (except there idea was even more complex using a camera to follow the eyes and direct it.

So they realised they couldn't give iphone users freedom from porn and decided to give it to the people around iphone users

Seriously, this could be good for things like NFC payments showing details on screen.

Kierandownes said,
Could be useful for cash machines or ATM's, I hate people behind me in the line seeing how skint I am

Some cash machines already have them in the UK. Some cash machines have a very limited viewing angle so the person at the ATM can see their poor balance, but everyone else just sees a blue blur.

Kierandownes said,
Could be useful for cash machines or ATM's, I hate people behind me in the line seeing how skint I am

if someone's standing that close then seeing how skint you are should be the least of your worries

Kierandownes said,
Could be useful for cash machines or ATM's, I hate people behind me in the line seeing how skint I am

Every single cash machine I ever used in my life hs these screens. So does the Mercedes S in the middle screen.

I don't know why people suddenly think this is ideal for watching porn in public, sure I guess it can be used for that if that's your thing.

I can see a more useful tool for this kind of display. Namely for computer based exams in open plan exam centres. It's that time of year for me at my college and setting up privacy boards are a pain and this kind of thing could be useful and save the hassle.

StevenNT said,
I don't know why people suddenly think this is ideal for watching porn in public, sure I guess it can be used for that if that's your thing.

I can see a more useful tool for this kind of display. Namely for computer based exams in open plan exam centres. It's that time of year for me at my college and setting up privacy boards are a pain and this kind of thing could be useful and save the hassle.

No it is definitely for porn only!!! come on, it's safe to say anyone who mentioned porn said it as a bit of sarcasm/joke.

StevenMalone77 said,
They would patent breathing air if they could.

Not sure if you have been following the news or not, but Apple ****ed up and forgot to patent "upgrade" buttons for their apps. Now the patent squatter, Lodsys, is threatening iOS developers with law suits. In this day and age if a company DOESN'T patent what they are going to release they risk someone else doing it and then suing.

Shadrack said,

Not sure if you have been following the news or not, but Apple ****ed up and forgot to patent "upgrade" buttons for their apps. Now the patent squatter, Lodsys, is threatening iOS developers with law suits. In this day and age if a company DOESN'T patent what they are going to release they risk someone else doing it and then suing.

Yes i have, and in general i guess your right. Blame the game not the player. The whole system is ****ED.

Shadrack said,

Not sure if you have been following the news or not, but Apple ****ed up and forgot to patent "upgrade" buttons for their apps. Now the patent squatter, Lodsys, is threatening iOS developers with law suits. In this day and age if a company DOESN'T patent what they are going to release they risk someone else doing it and then suing.

see this is where patents are just handed out willy nilly you should have to 1st prove your the one who designed/programed/built what ever the thing is your trying to get a patent for

Seems like a good idea, actually. I don't know how this could have been claimed as a patent over other ideas for screen privacy, even though there are some differences in the mechanics.

PlogCF said,
Seems like a good idea, actually. I don't know how this could have been claimed as a patent over other ideas for screen privacy, even though there are some differences in the mechanics.
Hence the need to change the broken patent process. If anything this will give them the ability to go and sue anyone else that makes anything close to this even though it could be using a different technology. Let's not forget this is the company that patented using your fingers to control a touch screen (so I guess non-apple products are supposed to have you use your toes?). Not that I blame them. If they didn't patent this technology then someone else would just so they can sue the pants off anyone making anything comparable. Damn patent trolls.

you want to watch something that, well, might not be kid friendly on your laptop or tablet or smartphone. There's always the risk that someone, either by accident or by deliberate eavesdropping, will see what you are watching.

Given Apple's stance on porn in the app store I suspect their intention is to allow (for example) medical information displayed on an iPad or Macbook air to be more private. Another plausible scenario is to make it more difficult for students to cheat off of one another in a computer lab during an exam. I suspect keeping people from getting caught browsing pornotube in Starbucks is pretty low on their list of imagined applications.

If sufficiently configurable it might allow (for example) the top half of an iPad display to be viewed by one person and the bottom half by another - allowing two people sitting at opposite sides of a table to play poker or scrabble without seeing one-another's hands. Something like how modern in-car displays can show the driver a GPS map and the passenger a movie.

evn. said,

Given Apple's stance on porn in the app store I suspect their intention is to allow (for example) medical information displayed on an iPad or Macbook air to be more private.

Well it wouldn't necessarily have to be porn. It could be useful for someone to watch mature rated movies (such as action films or a horror film) during a long train journey or something.

Xerax said,

Because watching porn in public isn't.

Apparently not. When I was at the theatre yesterday to see PotC:4, Penelope basically whipped out her breasts. I don't see how watching that is all that different than porn.

LukeEmery said,

Apparently not. When I was at the theatre yesterday to see PotC:4, Penelope basically whipped out her breasts. I don't see how watching that is all that different than porn.

Was she nude and getting her guts beat? If not, then it's very different than porn.