We already have mirror pixels and camera pixels

20.39, Wednesday 19 Aug 2020

I posted complaining about screen technology the other day, and Benedict Evans linked to it in his truly excellent newsletter which goes out to 150,000 people, so some of you will be here because of that. Sorry! Mostly I post about things like whether virtual conferences could be a month long, or can human being detect north. I guess the moral is I should complain about things more.

ANYWAY. It turns out there are some interesting technologies bubbling under with screens:

Mirror pixels! I was demanding that we have reflectivity in screens. This seemed absurd, BUT:

Every office projector for 20 years uses Digital Light Processing: the projected image is created by microscopically small mirrors laid out in a matrix on a semiconductor chip – each mirror corresponds to one pixel in the projection. The mirrors can be flipped on or off. Bright light is bounced off the mirror surface.

Thanks to Daniel Matos a.k.a. @dmatos for telling me about this.

So, could these mirror pixels be blended with existing screens? Well, in an adjacent technology…

Camera pixels!

Here’s Apple’s 2004 patent for an integrated sensing display: the idea is to wedge thousands of microscopic image sensors between the LCD cells that make up the display and stitch it all together with computational photography.

I like this:

One use and benefit for such a panel is video conferencing: a user can maintain eye contact with someone on screen because the camera is ‘in’ the screen.

Can you even imagine? What about a screen where you scan a document by holding it up to the LCD?

What about a phone that lets you take selfies by turning into a MIRROR, and it captures a 3D image because the effective size of the camera sensor is the ENTIRE SCREEN.

The point is that we don’t need to stop at red, green, and blue subpixels. Other pixel types can be integrated.

Transparent screens!

Then of course there are transparent OLEDs.


I was kinda okay when I was just imagining stuff like this. But after learning that these technologies exist already, I find myself even more frustrated that we don’t have them in our pockets.

Apple drives the direction of smartphones. That won’t always be the case, but it has been so far.

Apple is legendarily focused on product marketing. Every product and hardware innovation - and they are often mighty innovations - is driven by a marketable vision.

But part of me feels like sometimes functionality should be added without that vision.

Perhaps product marketing has trimmed away the fascinating loose threads of computing, leaving the hackers and the artists - those who expand our range of the possible - nothing to play with.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it by email or on social media. Here’s the link. Thanks, —Matt.