The Apple Car dashboard may look different for the driver and passenger

Current CarPlay

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Car dashboard space is limited, and Apple is exploring ways to allow that single screen to display different information depending on which angle it’s viewed from.

Let’s be really clear here. “Display With A Time-Sequential Directional Backlight” doesn’t mention cars anywhere in its 8,900 words. Or vehicles. Either drivers or passengers.

Instead, the new patent lays out a long list of use cases that starts with a laptop computer, continues with VR headsets, and ends with “or other electronic equipment.” But the phrase “navigation device” is buried in that list.

For that and possibly all or any of these other devices, the patent suggests displays that “can present different content to different viewers” using hardware inside the display, which it then elaborates on.

“For example … a first user interface (eg, a navigation interface) may be displayed to a first viewer,” the patent states, “while a second, different user interface (entertainment system user interface) is displayed to a second viewer.”

It really polarizes the screen so that it presents an image when viewed from one side and a different image when viewed from another angle. Imagine another situation where there are two people side by side in front of the screen, and where one must not be distracted, but the other is at risk.

The driver of the upcoming Apple Car will no doubt have a screen that will show navigation, vehicle controls and statistics such as speed or time left before charging. Using this patent’s technology, a passenger, at least in the front passenger seat, could watch a movie.

Unless it’s a car

There is an alternative that is detailed in the patent, but it is clearly stated as an alternative to the basic idea.

“Instead of presenting different content to different viewers, a time-sequential directional backlight can be used to provide privacy to the first viewer,” Apple continues. “[The] the first viewer may be presented with the first content (eg content A) and the second viewer with a blank screen (eg a completely black screen).

It’s similar to a previous patent application that showed how a future iPhone could have a completely blank screen unless you’re looking at it through Apple AR.

A previous patent application showed how a blank screen could show images to a viewer wearing an Apple AR headset.

A previous patent application showed how a blank screen could show images to a viewer wearing an Apple AR headset.

In this case, Apple does mention AR, and as well as iPhones and iPads, it’s also talking about a “smaller device such as a wristwatch device, pendant device, headset, or headset device.”

For each of them, however, the description refers to the device or device screens, not to using them to see the contents of other screens.

Much of the patent text, however, ignores use cases and instead details processes and procedures for getting two images on a single screen. There are a few steps, and Apple details a few optional materials and components needed, but they all boil down to using a “time-sequenced directional backlight unit.”

“The backlight unit can emit light in different directions in different configurations,” says Apple. “In the first state, the backlight unit emits light with maximum brightness in the first direction.”

“In the second state, the backlight unit emits light of maximum brightness in a second direction different from the first direction,” it continues. “The backlight unit can switch between different states repeatedly and quickly.”

“The first direction may be directed toward the first viewer, while the second direction may be directed toward a second, different viewer,” the patent states. “Therefore, each viewer receives backlight in one configuration and no backlight in the other configuration.”

A detail from the patent showing how light from different images can be directed to different viewers

A detail from the patent showing how light from different images can be directed to different viewers

Since this is for a thin screen panel, it’s hard to imagine that the backlight system can be seen in a very wide field of view.

This can be good in terms of privacy, because actually the user and no one else should be able to see the screen. So if the screen can’t effectively be viewed from any angle other than straight on, the privacy idea works.

But Apple repeatedly writes that it is necessary for two viewers to see different images or videos on one screen. It must be something for the Apple Car.

Although nowhere in the patent does it talk about distracting the driver because his passenger is watching “Knight Rider” on the dashboard.

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