iMac could get built-in projectors for extending its display onto nearby walls

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The iMac of the future?
Photo: Apple

Imagine an iMac that can extend its display onto the walls around it. That could be possible in the future according to a new Apple patent, published on Thursday, that details an all-in-one with built-in projectors.

You can pair your iMac with an external display if you need additional screen space. That can be expensive, however, and you’re unlikely to find a third-party screen that looks as good as your iMac does on your desk. Apple seems to recognize that, so it is developing a better way to extend a Mac’s screen.

A new patent, titled “Housing Structures and Input-Output Devices For Electronic Devices,” details a potential computer display that has the ability to extend onto nearby surfaces.

Apple wants to make Mac’s display expandable

Apple notes how today’s devices “may be formed from materials that are unsightly or that hinder the operation of input-output devices.” Its solution is to use the clean surfaces around a computer, rather than adding additional devices.

“In some arrangements, the electronic device may be provided with projecting displays that help enhance the area used for providing a user with visual output,” the patent reads. Apple suggests the machine could also project content toward the user.

“In addition to projecting content behind the devices and/or instead of projecting content rearwardly, gap filter content and/or other content may be projected in front of the devices (e.g., in the vicinity of a keyboard, trackpad, and/or other input-output devices) to help create a visually seamless transition between different areas of displayed content.”

The patent also mentions how cameras and sensors could be used to identify unused surfaces for the “filler content.” Detected gaps would be taken advantage of, without encroching on surrounding objects, such as keyboards, notepads, or posters.

iMac of the future?

Apple’s drawings to demonstrate these features depict what appears to be an iMac. However, the technology — if it proves useful — could also be extended to other machines. It would be particuarly useful in notebooks with smaller screens, allowing users to expand their space wherever they may be working.

There is a catch, though. Apple suggests that glass housings, or other transparent materials, could be employed to make projection possible. This has the potential to make devices less robust, which would be a problem for portables like the MacBook.

It seems Apple’s aim is to make computer displays near-invisible, so that they blend into their surroundings. Instead of having an iMac blocking the white wall behind your desk, you have a large projection of your screen that the iMac (or other device) is seamlessly integrated into.

This sounds like an incredibly exciting feature, but it’s worth remembering that Apple patents are never a guarantee of things to come. The company is constantly exploring new devices and technologies, and only a small number of them actually become a final product.