An Apple patent that was filed back in October 2009 has just become public. It describes a future potential screen technology that combines both electronic ink, as made popular by the Amazon Kindle, and traditional LCD, as seen in practically every mobile phone and tablet to ship in the past decade. The hybrid screen would work by overlaying a transparent electronic ink display over a traditional display so that some or all of your screen can be either one technology or the other. The use cases here are obvious. When you want to read a book, switch your screen to eInk mode. When you want to watch a video, switch your screen to LCD mode. We’re worried about how much this is going to cost and how it’s going to impact the quality of the display. When you put extra layers on top of a LCD you reduce brightness, viewing angles, and may even reduce touch sensitivity.
Like all patents, just because it exists doesn’t exactly mean it’s going to end up in a final product. Companies like to patent things all the time to build up an extensive portfolio that they can use to bargain with other companies when negotiating cross licensing deals. It’s much more likely that Apple will simply switch to OLED technology once they start being manufactured in volume since it offers better display quality while also reducing power consumption levels. At the same time we’re not sure how electronic ink is going to evolve over the coming years, and let’s not forget about Mirasol, Qualcomm’s attempt at making a best of both worlds screen that is not only low power, similar to eInk levels, but can also do color and provide full motion video.
Don’t hold your breathe for this to come in the iPad 3 or 4, possibly even 5.