Future Apple Watch or iPhone may gain a camera completely hidden when not in use

The display of a future Apple Watch, iPhone, or any Apple screen may be able to contain a camera and camera flash externally visible only when needed.

The only thing that stops the Apple Watch wrist-worn video media popularized by great fun is that it lacks a camera. Apple may have now resolved that, however, with a recently granted patent that partially describes incorporating a camera and flash into a screen.

“Electronic devices with two-stage displays” is about screen production with layers of different display technologies. It’s apparently for any conceivable device with a screen – and Apple lists the widest possible range of those – but much of the patent describes the Apple Watch.

“Electronic devices like mobile phones sometimes have screens and other optical components like cameras and camera devices,” the patent begins. “It can be difficult to incorporate optical components like these into an electronic device.”

“Displays can also be attractive when they’re not in use,” it continues. “In some settings, devices will have unobtrusive windows to accommodate cameras and flashes.”

If that description makes you think of the notch on the front of an iPhone, or the camera on the back, perhaps this patent could be used to address both. Overall it details how a small screen can include layers that provide different features for the Apple Watch.

“An electronic device can be provided with a two-stage display,” it says. “The screen can have an inner layer with a pixel array for displaying images and an outer layer formed by a light modulator with an array of cells, each of which can be placed in a transparent mode or light block mode.”

The patent describes having first a kind of fast-reacting screen capable of displaying a video. Then in addition to that there could be a second screen layer commonly used to display slowly changing images, such as text.

Detail of the patent showing how Clock Face is visible

This layer could be effectively turned off to allow users to view the video on the bottom layer, or it could be turned on to change the look of the device. In that case, a camera shutter “may have an appearance that matches the housing of the electronic device.”

“When one wishes to capture images, control circuits in the electronic device can temporarily put the shutter into transparent mode to allow light from flash and / or light imaged by the camera,” the patent continues.

This patent is credited to eight inventors, including the prolific James R. Wilson. His previous work includes related patents on how “Apple Glass” could also have cameras hidden when not in use.

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