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Future Apple MacBooks could have screens backlit by the sun

post #1 of 34
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First on AppleInsider: A new Apple patent application revealed this week describes technology that would allow an external light source, like the sun, to provide the backlight for a display, helping to conserve battery life.

The application revealed this week, entitled "External Light Illumination of Display Screens," notes that current LCD displays can be difficult to view when outdoors in direct sunlight. In addition, it said, it often takes high-powered components to properly light the display. The patent describes a way for a portable computer, like a MacBook, to collect external light to illuminate the computer screen.

One described method would employ a "light harness," which would serve as a collector of light that would then be displayed onto the screen. This could be done by having the harness reflect light toward the back of the display panel.

In addition to the sun, external light could come from a variety of sources, including an accessory light bulb that could be a part of the mobile computer. The application also mentions such a device could be used in a vehicle, with the screen illuminated by a light inside a car.

The system could also include internal LED light sources that could be used in conjunction with the external light source, if there is not enough light available to properly see the screen.

"The internal light sources may also increase the power consumption of the electronic device," the application reads. "Therefore, a manifold or other light harness may be used along one or more edges of the display screen in conjunction with or as an alternative to the internal light sources to provide illumination to the display screen by emitting light channeled from an external light source across the display screen."



One potential method would have the reflector behind the display screen, relaying light to the back of the panel to illuminate it for the user. Another method described in the application would allow the user to remove the reflector entirely, if the user were to position themselves and the back of the computer display towards the light source.



The technology would rely on a translucent surface, either removable or permanent, placed behind the computer display. The surface would either pass or harness external light, allowing the display to be illuminated. The surface could also be hardened to prevent damage to the display.



The patent application was filed with the U.S. Trademark & Patent Office on Sept. 19, 2008. The invention is credited to Peter H. Mahowald.
post #2 of 34
...Damn!
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post #3 of 34
iLight.
post #4 of 34
Colour accurary?? As any photographer knows, the white balance of the sun is very different to that of artificial light, so a clever system of balancing colours would be required.

Hot spots? If the reflector is not set up correctly, it could produce hot spots which would ultimately damage the screen.

How many keys on the keyboard!?!

Phil
post #5 of 34
My Macbook already has this feature. But only in a small apple shaped spot in the middle
post #6 of 34
If it's a bright day and the sun is behind your MacBook, you can already see the sun shining through the Apple Logo on the screen. Not terribly useful, and very occasionally annoying.
post #7 of 34
If I put my MacBook Air in the sunlight it already shines through my screen completely through the Apple logo. So... maybe I have a super secret model? :P
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post #8 of 34
It isn't clear to me how this could be accomplished without adding bulk to the notebook. Adding some type of outrigger to collect sunlight would make the notebook clumsy to move around.
Even distribution of the light coming in would be an issue, as the source could come from above, below, sides, corners, or as a bright source directly behind. White balance would probably be controlled similar to a digital camera.

Always nice to get another patent, though
post #9 of 34
I remember seeing a demo of an IBM Thinkpad back in 1997 that used the sun to backlight the LCD screen of a laptop. A door the length of the screen opened up at the top, allowing light to bounce in. True, it didn't give a uniform look to the back-lighting, but it did definitely work. I think I was seeing a demo unit, but I don't know if it ever made it to production. (Also, the whole back part of the screen could pop off so you could use the machine on an Overhead Projector. Dunno how they got around the heat issue, but it worked too, though not as great as an actual projector)
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post #10 of 34
I am a pretty big support of Apple, but this filing sure looks like the guys in art department in Cupertino had some spare time on their hands!

I have a hard time believing that the same guy who couldn't get far enough away from the bulk of a floppy drive would be interested in attaching an awning to his company's notebooks!
post #11 of 34
The design in the drawings isn't practical. Undoing an extra flap in the back? That's a pain in the ass.

If they had a magnifying glass-type material around the edges of the lid, it would collect and refract the light into the screen.
post #12 of 34
I would rather just use the sun on a solar charger.
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post #13 of 34
Apple patents far more of these oddball ideas than it actually takes to market.

Not a big deal.
post #14 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by womble2k2 View Post

Colour accurary?? As any photographer knows, the white balance of the sun is very different to that of artificial light, so a clever system of balancing colours would be required.

Hot spots? If the reflector is not set up correctly, it could produce hot spots which would ultimately damage the screen.

How many keys on the keyboard!?!

Phil

honestly, if you're worried about color accuracy, you're NOT using a laptop outside in the sun.
post #15 of 34
That Al Gore... needs to stay away from Ive's desk...
post #16 of 34
remember commenters, companies try to patent every little thing they think of. i doubt this will see the light of day. (see what i did there?)

i think with power management improvement, new screen technologies, more efficient LED backlights, and to a lesser extent new battery technology, this kind of system won't be necessary.

and that's in addition to the fact that this kind of bulky, complicated setup is very un-apple.
post #17 of 34
Interesting concept, but I always thought solar cells got extremely hot when using them to create energy.
post #18 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

A new Apple patent application. . . a "light harness,". . . an accessory light bulb. . . a light inside a car. . . a manifold. . . reflector behind the display screen. . . or remove the reflector entirely. . . would rely on a translucent surface. . . removable or permanent. . .

This sounds like it should be sold via infomercial and bundled with the in-egg-scrambler.
post #19 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ghostface147 View Post

Interesting concept, but I always thought solar cells got extremely hot when using them to create energy.

Please reread the main article. It's not a solar cell.

It's basically a reflector providing the backlight that would normally be provided by a white LED panel (or formerly a CCFL panel). The collected light would be funneled to a plastic part that acts as a emitter, like a fiber optic light, just big and rectangular.

SGI's Corona LCD display panel (circa 1995?) had a removable backlight. You could then clip the display panel to an overhead projector (this was when LCD projectors were the size of suitcases). In this setup, the light from the overhead projector was shining directly on the LCD, but it wasn't much different.

The main thing here is the collection of sunlight and transmitting it to a diffuse panel behind the LCD.
post #20 of 34


I've created a "light harness" which would serve as a collector of light that would then be displayed onto the screen of an "LCD Display"...

I'm Dr. Evil and I approve this frick'n technology...

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post #21 of 34
Not gonna frackin' happen... This is just patenting an idea for the sake of claiming it. It will NEVER be used by Apple.
post #22 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eriamjh View Post

Not gonna frackin' happen... This is just patenting an idea for the sake of claiming it. It will NEVER be used by Apple.

Apple doesn't even like removable batteries. I doubt they'll ever use the sun for anything.
post #23 of 34
Interesting idea. The outrigger or reflector clearly wouldn't make it to market, but I can imagine a bezel or lid material that would collect light, then channel it, perhaps via fiber optics, to a diffuser screen that would then provide the backlight. One nifty thing would be if a material could be developed that would permit transmission of light in only one direction, so that if the laptop is indoors, running on the internal LEDs, their light would all be directed out the lcd, rather than leaking out through the collector apparatus. Leaking light means less effective brightness (flux being distributed in some directions where it's not useful). Kinda like a one-way mirror. Sorta.

C
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post #24 of 34
Come on how is this new. Transflective screens already exist and I think in a Toshiba Notebook they already had them. There is no need to do this weird thing here.
They work very well.
This is a bogus patent and I doubt it will be approved.

The question IMO is what happens when OLEDs finally show up or will they never. Because a Transflective screen probably won't work with an OLED. It is either TFT or OLED.
post #25 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by womble2k2 View Post

Colour accurary?? As any photographer knows, the white balance of the sun is very different to that of artificial light, so a clever system of balancing colours would be required.

Phil


Yes, but you can filter and shift light. It does not say that this would be direct sun light. It is just a matter of normalization after filtering. Sun light does not have gaps - it has just different spectral distribution.
post #26 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post



I've created a "light harness" which would serve as a collector of light that would then be displayed onto the screen of an "LCD Display"...

I'm Dr. Evil and I approve this frick'n technology...

"This light is conduted using electricity therefor I shall call it the Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO for short. Whaa?"
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post #27 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Damn_Its_Hot View Post

This sounds like it should be sold via infomercial and bundled with the in-egg-scrambler.

Well I've said it before and I'll say it again. As soon as Apple get their notebooks fitted with a tea-maker the UK market is wide open to them!
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post #28 of 34
While I worked at 3M, one of the products that I saw being developed was a unique form of light piping for roadways. It was meant to augment/replace reflectors on guardrails for curves, especially at night. The forward end of the adhesive-backed, flat-format material had basically an optical fiber reception surface - or open fiber ends that took light from headlamps and channelled it down-pipe. The fibers were processed to allow controlled "light leakage" along the length of the pipe. The net effect was to have the light from the oncoming headlamps illuminate the entire 50 feet or so of the guardrail with a wide band of light - calling attention to the curve. It was very effective, but more expensive than just adhering a bunch of reflective tape (also made by 3M) to the same guardrail.

There is a lot of lightfiber technology which could be applied to this concept outside of the rather dated approach shown as "one concept" int he patent application. For example a similar light fabric could be part of the top surface of the laptop lid and channel ambient sunlight into a diffusion panel to light the screen. A simple set of lumen-level sensors could be used to balance use of LED back lighting and the ambient source. Not a bad concept at all, hardly revolutionary, but as with a lot of Apple ideas - they could make it work profoundly better than anything to date.
post #29 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by acslater017 View Post

Apple doesn't even like removable batteries. I doubt they'll ever use the sun for anything.

I wouldn't say either statement.

It's not that Apple doesn't like removable batteries. it's that they want long lasting batteries and right now that means using every bit of space to have a larger battery. Including the rigs needed to allow removal.

as for the sun. if they could find a way to solar power a notebook or even something like the ipad/iphone without heat damage to the device to complement the internal chemical battery (or even recharge it), they would investigate.
post #30 of 34
As someone above said, it's been done, in a way. I remember in high school, about 10 years ago, we had these Sony Mavcia digital cameras, and at the top of the screen, there was a see though slot thingy, so when you turned the back light off, the sun would light up the back of the screen. Since I cant' describe it well, here is a picture: http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/so...camera-top.jpg

The color was a bit off when using it, but it was brilliant as saving batteries, it usually trippled the battery life of the camera. But, in modern laptops, with LED back-lite screens, how much power do you really save with this? Wouldn't it be better to have REALLY advanced sleep modes for the CD drive etc, so if the drive isn't being used, all power is cut to the drive? And if the wireless/BT are not connected, they are disabled automatically?
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post #31 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by womble2k2 View Post

Colour accurary?? As any photographer knows, the white balance of the sun is very different to that of artificial light, so a clever system of balancing colours would be required.

Hot spots? If the reflector is not set up correctly, it could produce hot spots which would ultimately damage the screen.

How many keys on the keyboard!?!

Phil

Phil it is possible the Color profile wouldn't be affected by the light source however, i haven't ever heard of a photographer wanting to edit in anything other than a control lit environment so I cant imagine anyone including myself editing my photos outside or in my car ever...as i am a photographer.

This would be perfect for the military and it wouldn't be too far fetched that this news comes after the article about the military paying a visit to apple recently.
post #32 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post



I've created a "light harness" which would serve as a collector of light that would then be displayed onto the screen of an "LCD Display"...

I'm Dr. Evil and I approve this frick'n technology...

Dude, I am your biggest fan now! Haha! I love Dr EVIL!
post #33 of 34
I think another tech like the http://www.qualcomm.com/videos/qualcomm-mems
Mirasol/MEM tech has the potential to bring down power consumption of the display down.

The Mirasol tech uses a fraction of the energy used by a LCD. It is a reflective tech like the Amazon e-ink, except it has colors but is not static in terms of power consumption. The refresh rate is a little slow for fast action. I am not sure about the contrast and pixel density.

Half the energy in a laptop device is probably from the LCD display.
post #34 of 34
I'm sure this is called a transflective screen, just like the GameBoy Advance had.
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