Greg's bite: My dearest apologies to Mattel
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Greg's bite: My dearest apologies to Mattel

By Greg Mills

In recent articles I attributed the embarrassingly flubbed Ken smartphone Microsoft  launched as being a product of Mattel, when actually  Sharp produced it. I was frankly deceived by the toy like quality of the Kin/Ken, thus never attributing the toy phone to a serious manufacturer like Sharp.  

Actually, I am joking at the expense of Mr. Ballmer and the copycat software firm responsible for the Ken's release. Those folks, instead of being fired, were put to work building the (too late to be relevant) Windows 7 Mobile OS. I can't wait to see what wonders they can perform.

Microsoft has lost half its market cap since Mr. Ballmer took over the company from the other Steve. To their credit, Mattel never sued me for defamation or some other legal theory for embarrassing them with my insinuation they had anything to do with the Ken Phone.  (I never seem to spell "Kin" the same way Microsoft did). The dilution of the "Barbie" brand might also have been grounds for Mattel to have sued me, so I hereby apologize to Mattel.   

Going on to interesting tech issues, I read an article this morning where Sharp is working on a cool 3D touch screen smart phone display they hope to launch soon. That 3D screen may be a limited run item and thus only sold in Japan. This is somewhat typical that test runs; often, the latest thing is launched first in Japan. The Japanese are early adopters, and the latest tech gadgets always get snapped up by the locals.

There are so many ways to present a 3D display I hardly know where to begin. The theory is that we see with two eyes and thus see things in 3D. The two dimensions we see on current computer displays has only vertical and horizontal dimensions. When you add the third dimension things pop out from the screen and seem to be projected in front of the screen.  Sometimes the display forms the background and the 3D portion of the displayed image is projected to appear between us and the background. There is an overhead in additional information required to do this. The 3D image must be recorded and stored in such a way that the part that pops out is displayed at the right time and works with the background to make a believable image.

Some 3D images offer just sort of a fuzzy, out of focus softness. Other 3D systems are much crisper and really pop out.  Dual layer screens that sort of divide the display into two images that are polarized by a layer of plastic, so each eye sees at a slightly different angle that the brain converts to 3D is one approach.

Remember the little plastic toy images that came in Cracker Jacks? When you tip them back and forth they change the image as the plastic has prisms on it that divide the view into two different angles where you view one thing -- or two completely different images that alternate when the item is tipped. This requires the two images be stripped where every other narrow strip would be one image and the other strips are the other image. This is the cheapest way to do the 3D trick, but it has limitations.

Glasses that have colored filters that are different over each eye are able to trick us into seeing a 3D image, but you have to wear the silly glasses to see the effect. saw a demonstration of Panasonic's 3D HDTY system at a Home Show a year ago that used a variation of the 3D movie type glasses but was much more high tech. The expensive and relatively heavy glasses or goggles which could fit over regular glasses used Bluetooth to actually sync the lenses. The goggles alternately shut the lenses on and off in such a way as to sync with alternating images in the display. That mechanism offered slightly different angles of view, which resulted in a strong and vivid 3D effect. It did seem to be distinctly layered, however. The images flashed back and forth so fast you never noticed the alternation.

Numerous patents are both pending and issued for various ways to do the 3D trick. It is even possible to create a set of glasses that give a 3D effect for the person who wears them.  Connecting the glasses to a computer with Bluetooth is easy.  

Projecting a color 3D hologram may be the "Holy Grail" of 3D displays. A common problem with 3D displays is that the effect may only be visible at a narrow angle in relations to the screen.  Popular movies such as the "Star War " series have shown holographic projections in a science fiction presentation of what the future might hold.  

The issues are finding the combination of some sort of 3D effect that works with low power, full color, convincing 3D effects, low data stream requirements, without glasses, that are cheap and easy to manufacture. These are the elusive goals of Apple and the others researching 3D displays face. These companies use billions of dollars worth of displays for smart phones, iPads, iPods, laptops, desktop displays and TV screens, that display images to us many hours per day.  

Satisfaction with electronics is based upon getting the highest quality display and sound at the lowest price. That is why HDTV has taken over so quickly.  As prices for HDTV have fallen, regular TV is on the way out. Good quality 3D computer and TV displays will certainly replace current 2D screens when the technology matures.

Improvements such as the Apple Retina Display on the new iPhone 4 are simply a lot more pixels packed into a smaller space than before. The smaller and brighter the pixel the better quality the displayed image. I had a conversation with my iPad-enamored 11-year-old about pixel density the other day. I explained that when you run an iPhone version of an app on iPad the picture is not as sharp as when the app is an optimized iPad app, which has much sharper details. She got it right away.

Look for more pixels, brighter displays and someday soon, some sort of 3D effect coming from your displays.

(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at ; His email is )


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