updated 06:40 pm EDT, Fri May 20, 2011
Apple patents private viewing angle iPhone LCDs
An Apple patent in the US has shown the company exploring the idea of LCDs with switchable privacy levels. A screen on a device like an iPad, iPod, or Mac would have a "scattering module" behind the screen, as well as wedge-like liquid crystal elements in the screen itself, that would steer the lights going through the display. Toggling a privacy mode on the device would narrow the cone of light so that someone couldn't spy on the screen while still giving the owner a clear view when looking head-on.
Along with its effect on mobile devices, Apple covered as many potential use cases as possible, including the idea of using it for a driver-only display in a car. Apple didn't limit the technology to LCDs and opened the possibility to OLED, the largely defunct SED, and even carbon nanotube screens. iPods were used as example drawings but are believed to just be placeholders and not indicative of any design plans.
Apple filed for the patent in November 2009 and likely developed it knowing the iPad and other devices were candidates. Patents like this aren't necessarily indicative of Apple's actual plans.
Privacy screens are common features on some notebooks today but are used primarily for corporate PCs and rely on basic film covers to achieve the effect. Apple's strategy, if made real, could lead both to a truly integrated, user-controlled privacy display and expand it to truly mobile devices.