Apple's engineers are experimenting with wearable displays that could one day present an iOS rival to Google's Project Glass, a newly assigned patent suggests, bouncing projected light through specially created lenses. The patent, "Peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays", was filed back in 2006 and granted this week, and tackles what's perhaps the most difficult element of wearables, making displays in close-proximity to the wearer's eyes look suitably distant without causing eye-strain.
The technology Apple describes is similar to total internal reflection, where light is bounced within a lens from an origin point - such as a micro-projector, or LCD/OLED panel - through to the user's eyes. For instance, one length of lens spanning both eyes could be supplied with different images for the left and right eye from a single miniature display:
"One advantage is that the treatment of the peripheral area of the field of view leads to increased viewing comfort compared to conventional HMDs, and may also lead to a smaller likelihood of the user experiencing “motion sickness” phenomena during extended viewing. Another advantage is that users can make individual adjustments of their HMDs to fit the distance between their eyes. Further advantages include a greater immersive experience, larger virtual field of view, and increased overall image brightness" Apple patent
Apple argues that traditional wearable displays lead users to suffer from eventual discomfort because the virtual image falls short of the field of vision (FOV) of the human eye, leading to a shortfall in peripheral vision. It's an issue that Google has attempted to tackle with Glass, offsetting the transparent mono-display up above the eye, so that the wearer must deliberately glance up to access projected data.
Of course, as with any patent, there's not necessarily a production project at the end of it, though we'd be very surprised if Apple's engineers hadn't at least played with wearable prototypes. A previous patent application from the company suggested a wearable iPhone dock for augmented reality use, though this new system could access content from a remote device, such as streamed using AirPlay Video from the iPad in your bag.