Built-in projector a possibility for the iPhone 5, next generation iOS devices

A patent application granted by the US Patent & Trademark Office on August 11 hints at Apple’s plans to incorporate tiny projectors into its future iOS and Mac devices.

According to Patently Apple, a blog that tracks and reports on Apple’s patent applications, “Apple has been working on this idea for some years now,” but the level of detail included in the most recently granted patent suggests “that Apple's development teams are moving full steam ahead on the projection system project.”

Last week MacRumors discovered that Apple had purchased the Applepico.com domain name, causing speculation that Apple was working on such a product.

The iPhone 5 could well be the first Apple product to ship with a pico projector, but a report by Taiwanese IT industry English-language newspaper DigiTimes puts a damper on the rumors.

DigiTimes concluded that “the related R&D is still not mature and demand from consumers has yet to appear, so smartphone-use pico projector modules are unlikely to start mass shipping until after 2012.”

Apple is not the first company to try integrating pico projectors into its smartphones. Samsung showed off an Android smartphone called the Galaxy Beam back in 2010, LG strapped a projector accessory to the back of its LG Expo smartphone in 2009, and camera maker Nikon started shipping its Coolpix S100pj digital camera with a built-in 10 lumen LED pico projector during the same year.

In a 2009 report, market researcher iSuppli predicted that shipments of embedded pico projectors would reach more than 3 million units by 2013.

The next generation iPhone is expected to be launched in September or October of this year. A low-cost “iCloud iPhone” is also rumored to be launching alongside the device.

A video showcasing some of the latest iPhone 5 rumours can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iS_gc3c42s