Privacy screens may be the wave of the future, and Apple is riding the wave with a recent patent. We’ve all been there – on the subway or at a coffee shop – reading or watching something on our phone or tablet, when we have the peculiar feeling we’re being watched. We glance around and catch someone enjoying the content on our device along with us – reading over our shoulder. Apple is aware that their screens are easily read from wide angles, and yesterday, they filed a patent to do something about that.

Legacy Screens

Screens have generally been designed to offer a wide viewing angle. There are lots of benefits to that. Imagine two kids watching Netflix on an iPad. Neither kid wants to touch the other one, but they both want to see the screen clearly. Hence, wide viewing angle. This has other benefits as well. If a business man is at his desk and his phone rings, he doesn’t have to pick up the phone and look at the screen directly to see who is calling him. He can quickly glance down at an angle and see who the call is from.

Oldies Aren’t Always Goodies

The old saying Oldies are Goodies isn’t always true, though. While there are certainly times that a wide screen viewing angle is advantageous, Apple is aware that for many users, screen privacy is a real issue. Personal information, business data, bank statements, and private messages are all easily read with a simple glance over a shoulder, and that puts users at risk. Sensitive information can be quickly gleaned, simply by standing near someone. While there are advantages to the wide angle screen style, there are plenty of dangers and risks as well.

Apple’s Answer – Patented Privacy Screens

This is where Apple stepped in with a new patent on privacy screens. The goal is to have an array of crystals which can be adjusted to control the angle of view. Apple says, “The electrically controllable filter layer may have a liquid crystal layer or a polymer dispersed liquid crystal layer that can be controlled using electrodes. When the electrodes apply signals to the electrically controllable filter layer, portions of the filter layer change to a dark or translucent state and restrict the angle-of-view of the display.”  

Sound complex? It is. Simply put, though, the goal is to have a setting on your next tablet that allows for view angle, wide or narrow. The result would be a ‘private’ setting on your phone, iPad, or laptop that would allow you to work with a relatively narrow screen view, keeping innocent or nefarious onlookers checking what you’re working on.

Currently, companies like 3M offer a privacy screen cover that effectively blocks the screen viewability from angles other than straight on.  However, the screen cover can’t be easily removed, and can often cause darkness and display issues that make usability low. Apple’s answer of an electronically controlled adjusting screen may be the next thing that moves the Apple juggernaut ahead.

Read more from our privacy section here.