In 2011, a 3D display was often discussed for the iPhone 5. But since the launch of the iPhone 4S, little has been said about the future of 3D screens for next-generation smartphones. Is this feature off the table for the iPhone 6?
Last year, when the tech world was expecting Apple to deliver the iPhone 5, a 3D display was one of the rumored features that was on the table as a groundbreaking possibility. With the success of 3D movies like Avatar, as well as the Nintendo 3DS mobile gaming device and a smattering of Android-based smartphones with 3D screens, the sense what that Apple would be well-positioned to take 3D mobile computing to the next level.
And Apple even had a ton of 3D-related patents to support the notion that they were planning some kind of 3D feature for the 2011 iPhone. You’ll recall those patents for a 3D camera, as well as a 3D display, which for a time seemed imminent in the summer of 2011, when those now-debunked iPhone 5 cases launched with staggered camera lens cut-outs appeared to corroborate the 3D camera patent schematics.
But once the iPhone 4S launched in the fall of 2011, the prospect of a 3D display for the iPhone 5 seemed to disappear. And in the end, the iPhone 5 failed to deliver 3D.
Now, as we look ahead to the iPhone 6, is there any evidence that Apple is thinking of a 3D display and/or camera?
In spite of the fact that Apple’s 3D-related patents still remain a possibility for the iPhone 6, the current trends in consumer electronics suggest that 3D’s meteoric rise to popularity in 2011 is now on the wane in terms of emerging technology — particularly with respect to smartphones. There are currently three prominent Android smartphones on the market with 3D displays: the HTC Evo 3D, the LG Optimus 3D, and the Sharp Aquos SH-12C. However, all three of these smartphones were launched in 2011. In fact, of the 15 smartphones that are classified as “3D,” none of them were launched in 2012. You can see a full list of 3D smartphones here on Wikipedia.
In particular, it appears that Samsung, Apple’s most worth hardware technology competitor, appears to have no interest in 3D at present. In an article from Engadget on April 5th, 2012, Richard Lai writes:
“. . . we just received the following statement from [Samsung] who’s probably not too happy about some of the speculations out there:
‘Although Samsung Electronics is constantly exploring new technologies for our mobile devices, we have no immediate plan to include displays featuring 3D technology in our upcoming smartphones.’
So there you have it: the upcoming Galaxy S III, along with its new siblings, definitely won’t feature a 3D display; and you can certainly forget that 4-inch 3D handset we heard about last February.”
The preponderance of evidence here suggests that 3D is probably not going to be an obsession for Cupertino developers and the iPhone 6. We’ve already seen Apple make a move to separate the iPhone from the Galaxy S by developing this new elongated display, which is markedly different from the more tablet-like display dimensions on the GS3. It’s doubtful that either company will roll the dice on 3D as a means of gaining some kind of upper hand in next-generation features.
The future of 3D on smartphones looks bleak. With no manufacturer developing a 3D smartphone in 2012, it would seem that the only next possibility for 3D display application would be some kind of holographic display, where the user can manipulate a UI in three dimensions. And there’s a patent for that. But whether Apple — or anyone else — ever gets around to making a concept like that a reality, 3D appears to have been put into mothballs.
By Michael Nace