Three-dimensional display tech is coming to all sorts of gear, from TVs to strange desktop prototypes from Sony. And now, thanks to 3M and thin-film tech, it could be making it onto the tiny LCD of your favorite cell phone.
The technology is called Vikuiti 3-D, and it works just like many other 3-D displays, by projecting different images to each eye of a viewer, though in this case you don’t need a special set of goggles to see the effect. To make it work, a complex layered optical structure is laid down onto a liquid crystal display–a combination of reflecting prisms lenses and two different LED light sources. The optics act as tiny waveguides, and direct the light through the LCD’s pixels out to the viewer’s eyes, one slightly different image to each. If it’s held at roughly the right distance from your eyes, and fairly stationery, you see an autostereographic 3-D image. The difficulty in making this work on a cell-phone-sized LCD is that there needs to be an extraordinary degree of precision in aligning the optics and LCD components–the pitch of an iPhone’s screen is 160ppi remember.
So what’s the advantage? You’re unlikely to view 3-D movies on your phone–remaining immobile for the entire length of Disney’s Up would be tricky, if not impossible. But it’ll be useful for gaming, and for providing little visual cues to spruce up a graphical UI. And as smartphones get more complicated, this kind of technological tweak is exactly the sort of thing that could make them both easier to use and more fun.