When the iPhone 6s was announced, the 3D touch was a heavily touted feature.  The touch screen can now sense how hard you’re pushing. Functionally, it’s a great improvement that gives users new ways to interact with programs. But a new trademark application filed by Apple on August 18, 2015 suggests that this may not be the only 3d feature in store for the iPhone.

The application seems basic at first glance. For many years, Apple has applied to register its app icons as trademarks. Nearly all of them, and each iteration of each icon. It seems a bit overzealous, especially because the icons are revised frequently. Below is just a small sample.

Apple - sample icon registrationsAnd yes, that is a click wheel iPod in the lower left-hand corner. I don’t even know if those are sold anymore, but I’m pretty certain that icon hasn’t been in any of last three iterations of Apple iOS.  That technology may already be obsolete, and the registration hasn’t even reached the point where a renewal needs to be filed! (Although, if you’re looking for some excitement, the renewal period opens on Dec. 7, 2015. It’s a one year renewal window with a six month grace period, so this will get really interesting around May of 2017).

Needless to say, applications to register new icons don’t raise any eyebrows. They usually come in multiple chunks for all of the new sleek, redefined versions of the mainstay apple icons (phone, mail, weather, maps). But Apple’s new application doesn’t follow that trend. And the image identified in this new application is different from any of the others before:

Apple 3d app iconApple describes the mark as:

three, three-dimensional squares with rounded edges, stacked at an angle with the bottom square in dark green, the middle square in light green, and the top square in white. The top square contains three rows of three hearts, eight of which are gray and one of which has a linear gradient color of red to pink.

The image appears to be an icon rising out of an iPhone display screen. The mark description confirms that this is the intent. Of course, filing a trademark application doesn’t mean that a 3d screen is possible. But a patent application? That would help. And yes, Apple applied for a patent on 3d display technology in 2010. The patent was approved in late 2014. Apple also has a pending application for a patent on an “eye-tracking” feature for a 3d display.

Of course,  just because there is a registered patent for the technology, doesn’t meant that the technology exists, or that it works, or that it works well enough to be commercially successful, or that it works well enough to be commercially successful and isn’t so expensive that nobody can even buy it. But filing a trademark application is a new step with a limited time frame to complete. So maybe a consumer oriented 3d feature isn’t too far down the road after all.  I think I’ll pass on 6c and wait for the iPhone 7, just in case.

  • Gabriella Ripoll

    Handheld 3D Display technology (without glasses) already exists – look no further than the Nintendo 3DS, which came out in 2011. The 3D screen isn’t a touch-screen but it does exist. Nintendo released a newer version of the 3DS with eye-tracking in the past year. It’s interesting to think of phone companies mimicking gaming system components though – with so much smartphone and handheld game overlap, it makes you wonder if and when Nintendo will branch into phones.