Apple Sees a 3D World with No Competitors

Russell Fish

January 21, 2011

 

A year ago CES was atwitter with 3D television talk.  Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba were convinced that kids would sit around wearing goofy glasses just to see knives jut out of the screen.  Didn't happen.

 

Apple saw the world differently and planned accordingly.  Many people were aware of Apple's 3D patent 7,843,449, invented by Christoph Krah.  Most looked at the first image in the patent, saw a projection screen and a device that tracked the position of an audience member's eyes.  Really looked like a kluge.  Projectors were so 1960's Super8.

 

The "projection screen" is what patent attorneys call "one embodiment."  In this case, the screen embodiment is probably a ruse to throw off competitors while maintaining protection for the underlying invention.  A closer read discloses a method of displaying 3D images without glasses using front projection, rear projection, or even no projection at all.

 

Furthermore, the idea of tracking audience member's eyes in front of a projector screen is ridiculous since the 3D effect can only be made visible at a single position in front of the screen.  Who would invite their friends over to watch 3D football on the big screen that only one person could see?  On the other hand, tablets are single user devices, and tracking the tablet user's eyes substantially expands the 3D field of view.

 

The underlying technique is called Lenticular Display and is more than a half century old.  In the old days, Cracker Jack candy popcorn came with a toy "surprise inside".  These cheap items were often a flat plastic item about the size of a matchbook that when looked at from different angles displayed a different image, or sometimes an image in simple motion such as a dog barking.

 

The display technology behind this magic required vertically interlacing two or more images on printed card stock.  A thin plastic cover consisting of hundreds of vertical miniature convex lenses was attached to the card stock.  The pitch of the lenses matched the pitch of the image interlacing.  As a result when looked at from different angles, the lenses would present different interlaced images to the viewer, hence the 3D effect.

 

What the Apple patent does not explicitly teach but implicitly explains is how to place a lenticular lense on the front of an LCD display which contains two or more vertically interlaced images.  Furthermore, by tracking the users head position, the 3D effect can be maintained through a wide field of view.

 

A Really Dense LCD

Apple has supposedly been seeking sources for a very high-definition LCD display for the iPad family.  Several thousand line resolutions make no sense for the small physical size of a tablet product.  However, if Apple is implementing Krah's lenticular display, the resolution is logical.  The current iPad display resolution is 1024 x 768 pixels.  An LCD with 2048 x 768 resolution could display 3D images using a lenticular display.

 

A coming generation Apple iPad will have 3D icons, a 3D user interface, and of course play 3D movies.  Any other product without the 3D feature will look... flat.

 

Really Bad News for Competitors

Three dimensional display using the lenticular technique doubles the processing requirement of the GPU and CPU.  A dual-core A4 implemented on Samsung's new 32nm process would increase power consumption only slightly.

 

1. Apple already has a ten to one power advantage over any competitor with an INTEL Atom and as much as a two to one advantage over any ARM based products that do not use the Apple proprietary power saving features.

 

2. Any potential competitors that try to do lenticular 3D will find themselves at an even greater power disadvantage than present. The current iPad LCD backlight accounts for about half the current iPad power consumption.  A higher resolution display will have the identical backlight behind more pixels.  That means the proportion of power consumed by the CPU will be greater giving Apple's CPU an even greater power advantage than it has in the current iPad.

 

TOMI™ Technology Might Give Competitors a Fighting Chance

Power consumption is the real killer for Apple competitors.  The following table may clarify the opportunity for survival in the face of the Apple onslaught:

 

Processor

Technology Node

TDP/core (watts)

Performance

Cost

Apple A4 (current)

 

Samsung 45nm logic

0.8*

1Ghz

$15*

Apple A5? dual-core

Samsung 32nm logic

0.5**

1.4Ghz**

$20**

TOMI™ 8-core on 1G DRAM

 

70nm DRAM

0.045***

1.66Ghz***

$4***

 

* Based on teardown of iPad and public spec sheets of other components.

** Based on assumptions from publicly available Samsung technical and marketing documentation.

*** Based on Spice runs on 70nm 3 layer metal DRAM process and wafer costs Nov. 2010.

 

Let's Play What-if

Micron has the best memory design and process technology in the world.  They have also lost money 8 of the past 10 quarters.  What if Micron decided to build TOMI for the acquiring computer company using their 42nm 2G DRAM as the parent DRAM?

 

- How fast would a TOMI CPU run at 42nm? Probably 2.5-3Ghz.

- The entire 256Mbyte iPad memory would fit on the TOMI 2G chip, no external DRAM required at all. 

- Could a money losing DRAM powerhouse make money fabbing CPUs in DRAM for HP, Oracle, or Lenovo?

            2G DRAMs are selling for $1.70 (January 21, 2011 DRAMexchange quote) 

            Eight TOMI CPUs will increase the die size about 10 percent. 

            Do the math.

 

In the eat-or-be-eaten world of computers, Apple is making a meal of the industry.