back to article Apple patents all-seeing display

Apple was granted a flurry of patents today, including one that describes a flat-panel display that doubles as a camera. More on that "Integrated sensing display" in a moment. The other six patents are a curious mélange of history and forward-thinking ideas. One merely describes how an iPod - or most any media player, for …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How very Orwellian

    I suppose it is fitting that Apple would be the company to patent the Telescreen.

    (Also, apparently "1984" by itself is not a valid title.)

  2. h


    All bosses can't wait to put this on all our Macs. Sleeping? Yapping on the mobe (there! I said it! And I'm a Merkin!) not at your desk as you should be? Imagine the boss-like possibilities!!!

  3. Anonymous Bastard

    Missing the obvious

    This can't be a new development as I've read a similar idea somewhere before and not just in 1984.

    The most important and most overlooked aspect of this is the image isn't collected from a single POV, it will be stereoscopic, but with more than two cameras. In essence any object placed in front of the telescreen (for wont of a better name) would be imaged from many different angles at once. With not much software you can then map those into an amalgamated 3D representation.

  4. h
    Jobs Halo


    Macs in the workplace? I work in the colored pencil office

  5. h


    What happens if you and a coworker are screen sharing AND looking at each other at the same time?!

    Ok i'm leaving now.

  6. Chris
    Thumb Down

    Apples patents electricity, steam, fire.

    Is there any existing technolog that apple won't file a patent for?

    "1. A method of sending signals corresponding to multiple button functionalities from a unibody mouse to an electronic system having a single movable housing component that cooperates with and is movably coupled with a base housing component that supports the unibody mouse on a surface, comprising: associating the multiple button functionalities with specific portions of the single movable housing component; activating each of the multiple button functionalities by moving the single movable housing component to different positions relative to the base housing component wherein the single movable housing component has at least two degrees of freedom relative to the base housing component; generating a clicking action by moving the movable housing component relative to the base housing component along at least one of the at least two degrees of freedom; and sending a signal to the electronic system based upon the clicking action.

    2. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the clicking action implements a function selected from a group comprising: a single click function, a double click function, and/or a dragging and dropping function.

    3. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the electronic system includes a display screen suitable for displaying images.

    4. A method as recited in claim 3 wherein each of the multiple button functionalities corresponds to an action on a display screen. "

    That goes on and on and on, but in essence, IS JUST A MOUSE. Virtually every one of these "patents" I see apple put in is for something already existing.

    "One merely describes how an iPod - or most any media player, for that matter - can keep status information in nonvolatile memory when switched off."

    Rigght. So Apple are patenting solid state memory too?

    And when it's not something pre-existing, it's something utterly ridiculous. A zoomable camera with lens PER PIXEL? Course you will.

    Why don't Apple just go back to what they do best - releasing mediocre hardware for double what the top end stuff goes for. And please don't quote the "same price as a dell" argument - Dell's are ridiculuosly overpriced too, and even then it's not true:

    Macbook Pro 17 inch:

    2.66GHz Core 2 Duo

    4GB Memory

    NVIDIA GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT with 512MB

    DVD RW


    Dell XPS M1730 17 inch:

    2.6GHz Core 2 Duo

    6 GB Memory

    NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT + 9800 GT with 512MB

    BluRay RW


    And Dells ARE a rip off.

    And don't even get me started on pointless models like the air.


  7. VampyreWolf


    1984 was written as a warning, not a guide. This is just one step closer to big brother.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Dave


    I think there's a bug in El Reg's comment code, it wouldn't let me have '419' as a title a few days ago. It won't allow numeric-only titles.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    The malware crowd might like it...

    ... give 'em a little incentive to think about going after Mac users for a change. They could cleverly social-engineer users into installing software that uses Apple's "all-seeing display" to capture pics of Joe or Jane RichAppleOwner doing something naughty or embarassing in view of their all-seeing screen, and demand money to not release the pics.

    At least with a webcam you can turn it off without disabling the whole computer.

  11. jake Silver badge

    Prior art.

    Again. That's HOW many in the last couple months?

    Someone at Apple is obviously performing favo(u)rs of an oral nature for someone at the US Patent Office. Not that there is anything wrong with that ... until it becomes a caricature, of course.

  12. Torben Mogensen

    The idea is old

    Using insect-eye optics for a flat camera is an old idea, and combining camera and screen has also been described before. See, for example,

    So all I can see a valid patent covering is a method for actually constructing such a flat camera display.

  13. Dan
    Thumb Down


    I like my new macbook, but I don't really like the sound of this.

    <Tries to remember to add a bit of tape over the webcam to provide unauthorised activation - one thing going for Windows PCs was the fact that I never had a webcam>

  14. Claus P. Nielsen
    Thumb Down

    Re: Missing the obvious

    I think it is Apple that is missing the obvious in this case.

    The list of problems with implementing this is too long for it to have any practical use as a camera (It may be an OK scanner, but that is another matter).

    Below I have listed some of the most serious ones.

    The "optics" for each pixel will have to be very narrow-angle since a wide angle optics will mean that all pixels see the same area and therefore has no distinction of features inside this area (at distances relevant for camera application). This means that the optics in question will need to be rather deep compared to the pixel size.

    It is not possible to implement this type of display with a window in front of the image/display pixels, since light leakage from the light emitting pixels will be reflected back into the sensor pixels by the window surfaces at a level larger than the light actually being used for imaging (and before you claim that this can be filtered out once you know the image being displayed on the display, I have to mention that there are things such as tolerances and optical noise coming into play that limit this). This gets to be an even more severe problem once you realise that even OLED displays implement polarizers sheets in front of the LED's in order to give better black levels (a naked OLED display is grey rather than black since it reflects light rather nicely).

    The DSP power needed for this kind of imaging is expensive, power consuming and probably not competitive to the replacement technology of placing 2 conventional cameras on each side of the display and making a compound image that looks like it is taken from the center of the display.

    The entire construction (optical and otherwise) of a camera pixel and a display pixel are very different. The same goes for the needed optics. Combining the 2 into the same panel doesn't make sense.

    The entire patent is obviously the brainchild of somebody who doesn't really work at making cameras or for that matter displays (but who hopefully gets a good bonus for getting a patent anyway)

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Adam Foxton
    Jobs Horns


    I agree

    they should start using the same rules that they now use for perpetual motion machines on everything else- show it working or you don't get the patent. Especially for people like Apple who seem to have a business process of "Hey, I've had an idea. But... ah, it'll never work" "Patent it anyway!"

  17. Adam T

    Re: Missing the obvious

    I'm with Claus.

    There are too many things wrong with this, but at the top of the pile is resolution, and resolving a reasonable image, and light fluorescence: The idea of turning the brightness of a display up to act as a lightsource sounds neat in a classroom, but light bleeds - ask any amateur astronomer. Surface materials can minimise the bleed, but at the scales (pixels/even subspixels) they're talking about the impact would surely be substantial.

    Besides which many people like webcams that can be moved around, pointed elsewhere. Not everyone appreciates their face-on profile.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    ?! "keep status information in nonvolatile memory when switched off."!?

    I bet that anyone of us has experience with, for example, radio (my car radio is the example which comes to my mind) that stay tuned on the same channel when switched off - hey, the CD reader of my car starts not even from the same track but from the exact right moment in the track when the engine was switched off... and actually talking about any electronic device saving the status of the system at power off (not only as desired event but also from recovery as power loss) is for example a must have in any industrial design (electronic control of equipment)..... conclusion: it is suggested that the readers of the register in the US storm the local patent office and raze it to the ground: the US patent office is (1) an obstacle to progress (2) the feeder of the patent trolls

  19. Peyton

    me!me!me! I want it!

    And here's why: Multiple displays. But not just so I can see myself in each one - I want this thing to have full view of my face and eyes, so when I look to another screen, focus automatically jumps there.... ahh that would be sweet. I hate/loathe/abhor pulling my hands away from the keyboard to use the mouse (and Apple's implementation of command+tab sucks imho).

    Here's a question: can my ramblings serve as "prior art" if someone tries to patent such a thing?

  20. Barry Tabrah

    Aston Martin Vanish a possibility?

    A screen that doubles as a camera? There be some cloaking potential in that idea. No more deciding where to put the camera and where to put the display, just wrap the vehicle / building in AppleCamScreen ... mmmm AppleCamScreen.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    "near touch" sensitive

    Like others I don't think you could get a clear picture far away, and most of the facial recognition could be done with one or two webcams anyway. I reckon this is for "near touch" sensitive screens. Imagine an iPhone that knows when your finger is hovering near to the on-screen keyboard. The "keys" near your finger can be made larger than the others (a la Mac OS X dock) meaning you couldn't miss the key. You wouldn't need a clear image from each camera, just a brightness or focus level. Imagine the musical application too -- the iTheramin.

  22. Claus P. Nielsen

    Re: "near touch" sensitive

    You are absolutely right that this would be a nice idea - which is a pity for Apple since that specific application has already been patented by Sharp (don't know whether they have a US patent though).

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Where's the sory about Microsoft ridiculous Patent? Well?

  24. Stevie


    Prior art! Prior art!

    I cite The Kentucky Fried Movie and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

    Do I win an iPhone?

  25. Charles Manning

    Claus et al

    Agreed there are some interesting issues wrt focusing, but it is very possible to use output pixels as inputs with the correct technology.

    LEDs are obviously outputs, but can also be used as inputs too.

  26. Goat Jam
    Gates Horns

    Re: Microsofts Ridiculous Patent


    It's not a ridiculous patent. It is a GREAT patent. Patenting the ability to cripple your own software and then extort money from your users to enable features is a great idea.

    Well, it's a great idea as long as it is only MS who is doing it that is.

    If this patent stops every other software house from arse reaming their user base then that is a GOOD THING.

  27. Alice Andretti

    @ Peyton, about command+tab

    "...Apple's implementation of command+tab sucks imho"

    I take it, then, that there's no OSX equivalent of the excellent old Program Switcher by Michael Kamprath? I've used it on pre-OSX Macs for many years, still using it in fact, even before I knew of such things as alt-tab in Windows. I wouldn't be able to get anything done on my Macs without it. <off to do research>

    Okay looks like Program Switcher morphed into something called "Keyboard Maestro" which supposedly has application-switching and window-switching:

    Both of which sound much more complicated than the old third-party classic implementation that I use, but I don't have OSX to test the new stuff to see if it's any good or not. Might be worth your while to try Keyboard Maestro though, maybe it will be an improvement over Apple's cmd-tab?

  28. Claus P. Nielsen

    @ Charles Manning

    Although I can use a microphone to generate sound, the volume would be very low.

    The fact that a LED can also be used as a photo diode (with the right wiring), does not make a display into a camera.

    It is a nice but impractical idea.

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