Apple has been researching how to make privacy filters to prevent anyone but the user seeing what’s on their curved screen — but Apple has never made a curved screen.
You can read too much into Apple’s thousands of patent applications, but it’s unlikely that the company would research a technology with no intention of using it. The six credited inventors on a new patent application did not cook this up during their lunch hour.
That’s especially unlikely as the new application is “Privacy Films for Curved Displays” — and a version of it was already granted by the US Patent Office in 2023. So Apple is not only exploring the idea of curved screens, it’s iterating on the idea.
Except the patent application is not about making a curved screen, it’s about one specific thing to do with using them privately. Apple proposes putting a covering layer over the display.
It’s like a polarizing film in that it means light can only come out in one direction. So while the user is sitting at the right spot in front of the screen, they see the full retina-quality and full brightness of the display.
But anyone trying to look from even slight to their left or right, will either see nothing at all, not more likely a blurry image. This won’t stop anyone standing right behind the user and peeking over their head, and that might actually be a serious issue if someone’s seat across the office is positioned just so.
“A privacy film may have a light-blocking layer that is interposed between first and second transparent substrates,” says the patent application. “The opaque portions may be shaped to ensure light from the display is directed only to the primary viewer of the display.”
Apple’s proposal is more sophisticated than affixing an extra coating or layer to a display, however, because the company wants this privacy to be controllable.
“Changes in the operating mode of [the] display to implement angle-of-view restrictions… may be made based on user input or may be made automatically by control circuitry,” continues the patent application. “Control circuitry may, for example, use information such as content sensitivity information to determine whether or not content that is being display[ed] on [the] display should be displayed in normal mode or privacy mode.”
“If, for example, a user is viewing a movie, the movie may be displayed in normal mode,” says Apple. “In the event that a private message such as an incoming text message is detected, [the] display may be placed in privacy mode, thereby ensuring that the content of the text message will not be inadvertently revealed to unauthorized parties.”
The patent application concentrates on the complexities of adding such an optional, adjustable privacy filter to a curved display in particular, but it does also include regular, flat monitors.
So if this proposal ever becomes a shipping product, it’s at least possible that it will come to flat displays like those on iMac and MacBooks.
It’s interesting that Apple is continuing to look at ways of changing how screens display information, because recently it’s been looking at replacing screens instead. Or rather, to have it so that a screen appears, say, completely blank unless you are the owner and you are wearing Apple Vision Pro.