Is Apple's 3-D technology patent a sign of its video game console initiative?


The US patent office is responsible for much rumormongering. It’s the nature of the beast to publicize half-legible drawings that make us bloggers try to make sense of what’s going on. Usually the images and descriptions are vague enough that we can’t figure out what we’re looking at, but sometimes, when coupled with other rumors and leaks, things start to come together.

Apple Insider has it that Apple is apparently working on a new type of 3-D display that would allow viewers to see 3-D images on a flat surface without the aid of glasses. Sharp, among others, has been working on similar technology for awhile. The secret is tiny variant angles on the surface of the viewing screen that shoot the picture into each eye slightly shifted, giving a 3-D, stereo view.

The question is, though, what is Apple planning to do with this technology? It’s not practical for day-to-day computing, and Apple’s not really a heavyweight in the industrial sector (short of videographers and film types), so what’s left?

Entertainment. Apple’s 3-D technology could be the next great video game platform.

Think about it. Apple’s been dipping its toes in non-computer fun for awhile now, starting with the iPod. And we’ve said on this blog that the Apple TV could become an amazing game platform with very little work, and there are other nagging game rumors flying about unresolved. Let’s say Apple takes that path, what would be next?

It would want to revolutionize the video game industry just as it has the computer, music, and cellphone markets. Jobs doesn’t want to enter a new market unless he can make it Apple’s to lead, there’s no reason why the video game market would be any different.

Before you shout “no way”, think about it for a moment. When word leaked out that Apple was working on a cellphone, the Web was instantly filled with fan renderings of what such a device would look like, and while some were quite innovative almost none came close to how the final device looked. Nobody could have anticipated the combination of multi-touch and the accelerometer in such a small device, and even Apple’s most loyal fanbois weren’t even in the neighborhood when guessing the type of impact the iPhone would have.

Even before the iPhone there was the iPod. Ever seen the video of the launch of the iPod? Here it is, let’s take a moment and watch it.

When Jobs says, “This is what the front of [iPod] looks like, boom,” and then he pulls one out of his pocket, where it’s been the whole time, the crowd loves it. Nobody had ever seen anything like that, and no one saw that coming.

The point is, Apple’s done this before, and there’s no reason to think it won’t do it again, and soon. Apple has to keep entering new markets or else it risks going stagnant. Sure, there will be other iPods, but we’ve reached an almost perfection of form with them. The iPhone’s new and the next ones will be more awesome, but improving markets where it already dominates is treading water; to move forward, the company needs to move in new directions, and this could be one of them.

The Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, and especially the Wii are changing the way games are played, from networking users, adding incredible power, and just making things more fun. That said, there’s still some types of gameplay we don’t have yet that we though we would ten years ago. One such thing is true 3-D playing.

Some games have come out in 3-D but required glasses and weren’t even that good. But imagine playing a Tekken-style fighting game where you can move to any angle to see the action? What about a driving game where the objects really appear to fly by your windshield? Imagine if your shooter could gauge the distance to throw a grenade accurately with depth perception. That’s what we’re talking about.

Many games try to make things look more realistic, but it’s still on a 2-D plane. A 3-D system could be all immersive, and it could make the 2-D worlds of the Xboxes and PS3s and Wiis look like yesterday’s RAZRs.

We don’t want to say that this is what’s going to happen — far be it from us to try to read Steve’s mind — but it’s a definite possibility that’s been hinted at, and it’s easy to see how it could work and be awesome.