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Tiny lens could put projector phones in our pockets

Will a tiny speck of glass mean your next smartphone has a built-in projector?

pair of tiny lenses
Lenses like these millimeter midgets could play a big role in your next phone.
Alps Electric

We've been waiting years for smartphones to gain built-in projectors. What's not to like about your phone being able to project a 50-inch display?

There are a few projector phones on the market--outside the U.S.--but the predicted flood has been slow to materialize. That could be changing, thanks in part to a speck of glass not much larger than a grain of sand.

One reason phone projectors have been just out of reach is that they have to be bright to be seen well, and projecting a lot of light takes a lot of power. So while it's possible to put a tiny powerful projector into a phone, doing so involves trade-offs.

The grain-size speck of glass, a lens from Japanese component maker Alps Electric, transmits more light than previous lenses, which means fewer trade-offs. A projector using the lens requires less power to put out a given amount of light. When component makers address efficiency like this, watch for more phone makers to take the plunge.

The Alps Electric lens measures a millimeter by a millimeter and is less than a millimeter thick. The company boosted the lens' efficiency from 68 percent to 73 percent, making more of the light pumped out by laser diodes pass through the lens.

So, will your next smartphone be a projector phone? Projector phones are cool, and they've been a staple of science fiction for decades. It'll be interesting to see what happens when they're all over the place. It's obvious that it will make your phone easier on your eyes, but will it also change what you do with it?

Also, will there be downsides to projector phones? It's annoying enough hearing everyone's phone conversations in public. Are we going to find ourselves constantly treated to strangers' favorite YouTube clips too?

(Via Wired)