Apple Patent: Mini-Projectors Could Soon Come to iPads, iPhones

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Apple already controls the tablet market, but this feature will only make it more difficult for competitors to steal away a slice of the pie

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On Thursday, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a new patent application from Apple that shows the company could be planning on adding mini-projection devices to a coming iteration of its iPhone line and/or developing a projection add-on for MacBooks and other Apple portable devices. "Today's incredibly detailed patent application reveals how they're working on pico-like projectors for iOS devices and how these projectors will work with a shared workspace in presentations," according to Patently Apple, a blog that closely follows all Apple patents and breaks them down, piece by piece, in detailed articles. "Apple's patent even details how they'll introduce advanced gesturing that will be able to interpret shadow and silhouette gesturing associated with presentations in a darkened environment."

Integrating projection into the iOS system is something that Apple has long hinted at.

Now, Apple controls a huge number of patents and trademarks, far more than it can possibly work into its devices, no matter how many of them there seem to be. iPhones and iPads and iPods, oh my. But integrating projection into the iOS system (one that could soon replace the traditional Mac OS on all of Apple's devices, regardless of size) is something that Apple has long hinted at.

In mid-2009, Apple filed a patent that shows some crude images of a phone projecting images out of its top, the spot where you might expect to find a headphone jack on the current line of iPhones. Nothing had come of that project -- it was probably an attempt to protect preliminary research and development on micro-projectors -- by the time Apple filed another patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that touched on the issue. This next patent, which was filed in early 2010, shows thinking on projectors taken to the next level. Even the renderings are more complex and incorporate actual Apple devices. Not too long after, we learned that Apple was working on adding a projection feature to its existing line of MacBooks.

Patently Apple, which has examined all of the patents mentioned above in detail, also touched on the evolution of these applications. "The level of detail associated with this patent would suggest that Apple's development teams are moving full steam ahead on the projection system project which will further push the likes of Apple's iPad into the enterprise," the blog noted. That makes perfect sense, of course. I have seen more iPads in meetings and conferences than anywhere else; they make for excellent business tools. Apple already controls the tablet market, but adding this feature to the iPad line will only make it more difficult for competitors to steal away a slice of the pie.

Image: Patently Apple.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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