It might sound like a bold prediction, but the iPhone will get a holographic display in the coming years. And this isn’t wishful thinking based on what sci-fi movies told me to expect from the future. There are pieces of evidence here and there that indicate Apple is clearly interested in this particular type of technology, even though the company is far from announcing anything at this time.
The latest piece of the puzzle is U.S. Patent No. 9,250,734, first seen by AppleInsider. Titled Proximity and multi-touch sensor detection and demodulation, the recently awarded Apple patent details screen technology that would allow users to interact with various devices — including iPhone, iPad and Mac — with hand gestures by simply hovering over the display.
How would it work? The display would contain infrared LEDs and photodiodes that would be able to detect hand movements, just like the infrared proximity modules in current iPhones recognize the head during a call.
Yes, it would work just like Microsoft’s Kinect sensor but without using any cameras. That’s where probably technology from PrimeSense will come in handy – in 2013, Apple bought the company that developed the first Kinect, so it’s safe to say the iPhone maker is interested in controlling devices with hand gestures.
Samsung fans will rightly point out that the Galaxy S4 came with a feature called Air Gesture that lets you simply hover a finger over the screen to perform certain actions. So Apple would not be inventing anything new.
However, keep in mind that Apple spreads its inventions over multiple patents. An older Apple patent described holographic displays that would project images atop of the screen that the user would interact with, complete with multitouch support (see image below, from Patent No. 8,847,919: Interactive holographic display device).
Today’s patent also has support for multitouch gestures. Combined, the tech described in these two patents would let an iOS device project images up in the air, like various user interface elements inside apps or the system, which the user could interact with by simply hovering their hand on top of the screen and performing certain gestures. That doesn’t mean that hover gestures would only work with holographic UI elements as Apple could find ways to interact with the screen that doesn’t require holograms.
Let’s not forget that some sources keep saying that the iPhone is in for a major redesign in the coming years and that the home button will soon be removed. Technologies like the existing 3D Touch and these hover gestures described in the new patent could be used to replace the functionality of the home button.
Finally, Apple is committed to virtual reality as well, Tim Cook recently confirmed, so putting holograms on an iPhone screen might be included in its VR plans for the future.
Of course, not all patents awarded to Apple are turned into commercial products and the technology described in patent ‘734 can be applied to other products as well, not just the iPhone – the Apple car also comes to mind. But it certainly looks like a holographic iPhone display is also in the works.