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Why Apple Cannot Use Its 3D Holographic Display On The iPhone 5

Nearly three years ago, Apple submitted a patent application for a 3D holographic-like display system to the US patent and trademark office, one which works without the need for viewing goggles or headgear.

At the end of November, the patent was granted to Apple, one which was originally filed in the third quarter of 2006 according to Patently Apple.

This means that Apple engineers may well have been working on a "practical autostereoscopic 3D display that provides a realistic holographic experience" for more than four years now, even before the original iPhone was launched.

There is at least one reason why Apple may want a 3D holographic display on the next iPhone rather than on a monitor or a laptop. We know that the Nintendo 3DS will be the first gaming console to offer unobtrusive 3D viewing as its main selling point and Apple may have to do the same should 3D gaming become mainstream over the next 12 months (as with the motion-based Nintendo Wii).

There are however significant technical obstacles that will prevent Apple from using its own patented 3D holographic display. Because it relies on a projection display system, there needs to be some distance between the projector and the screen, something that is simply not possible on a portable device.

The screen itself is made up of pixel-sized mirrors, using a technology that's slightly similar to Digital Light Processing, a Texas Instruments based solutions that relies on Digital Micromirror Device.

Not only are these fragile because of their size, it is not known whether Apple will be able to layer them underneath the capacitive touchscreen for seamless interaction.

But that doesn't mean that Apple won't have a 3D ready iPhone 5. Japanese firm Sharp has already launched two handsets, the 003SH and the 005SH which both have 3D autostereoscopic 3.8-inch touchscreen displays - the same as on the Nintendo 3DS - with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. If Sharp can do it, then why not Apple?

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.