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On the same day that Apple bought the augmented reality company Metaio, it also published a patent for a new type of flexible display featuring tiny holes that let you see through (or hear through) it.

Displays have always been more like doors than windows, so to speak, but it may not have to be that way for much longer. Apple is experimenting with a display whose solid light-emitting pixels are surrounded by a pattern of tiny holes. This suggests that the display material may be thin and flexible.

A camera may catch light coming in through the tiny holes in the display.

Above: A camera may catch light coming in through the tiny holes in the display.

Image Credit: U.S. Patent Office

Why? The augmented reality application here is the user holding up the device and being able to see both the images it projects and the real world objects behind the screen. So the pixels may be able to show images that seem to overlay and provide information about the items on the other side.

The patent also talks about shooting various signals outward from the phone through the holes in the screen. “The signals may include acoustic signals, electromagnetic signals such as radio-frequency electromagnetic signals, and light,” the patent reads.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 2.11.51 PM

So a microphone might receive sound through the screen, or a speaker might project sound through the screen. A sensor may project light outward through the screen, or a camera may receive light coming in through the portholes.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 2.26.58 PM

Above: An NFC radio may emit radio signals to a payments terminal through the tiny holes.

This display technology may still be far from production, but augmented reality is coming fast, and our screens must be ready for it. The patent is an interesting look at some of the new thinking rattling around in the heads of Apple designers and engineers.

Research services: Mikhail Avady at Smartup Legal

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