Apple invention could lead to glasses-free 3D on mobile devices

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An Apple patent application published early on Thursday could theoretically set the stage for iPhones and other devices with "autostereoscopic" displays, simulating 3D without the need for special glasses.

The patent, found by AppleInsider, describes a pixel array featuring a second array of subpixels and lens structures, the latter emitting light at a number of different angles. The key component though would be the "beam steerer," pointing the correct light at the viewer.

To judge where to aim the light, a device would use a camera and/or an accelerometer. That would suggest an emphasis on mobile devices, though Apple could conceivably try to implement the technology into MacBooks.

Glasses-free 3D has largely failed to take off in consumer electronics, so far. One attempt at the idea was Amazon's botched Fire Phone, which didn't offer a true stereoscopic effect but did employ a "dynamic perspective" sensor system. The most successful may be Nintendo's 3DS handheld.

The application was originally submitted in January 2015, and is credited to Jean-Jacques Drolet, a senior manager of Display Technologies at Apple.