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Apple sees a 3D future for video-watchers on the move

Plan to produce electronic spectacles, published on 1 April, are genuine

When patent number 20100079356 was published on the US Patent and Trademark Office website at the beginning of this month, it was first assumed that it was an April Fool joke.

But now it appears that plans for Apple to develop electronic spectacles that will allow the wearer to watch 3D films on the move are more rooted in reality than it at first seemed.

The patent plans were first published on 1 April, and were dismissed by many as a spoof. But technology bloggers are increasingly in agreement that the plans are genuine.

They point to the fact that the patent application was filed in September 2008. And that the generally unhumorous US Patent and Trademark Office would have to have been party to any hoax that involved the plans appearing on its website.

If the spectacles are indeed in development they will revolutionise the way films can be enjoyed on Apple's major products – the iPod, iPhone and iPad – which currently suffer from the fact that they all have relatively small screens.

The document shows how users would slot their iPod or iPhone, on which the film is shown, into the head-mounted gadget. A lens in the glasses then projects the image so that it can be viewed comfortably.

The device would be fitted with a camera that would stream video of the outside world into a smaller screen in the glasses. If someone approaches the user or tries to get their attention, this would be detected by infrared sensors and the video stream would pop up inside the glasses, allowing the wearer to see what is happening.

The company hopes this will enable people to feel comfortable about wearing the device in public situations, such as when travelling on a train or an aircraft.

The concept of allowing consumers to watch films on the inside of a pair of glasses is not new, and a small number of companies already provide products that can be plugged into an iPod. However, the images shown are not three-dimensional and the quality of the viewing experience has been criticised.

Technology analysts also say that other video glasses have failed to take off, partly due to the inability of people wearing them to see what is going on around them, meaning consumers are reluctant to wear them in public.

Simon Middleton, an independent technology brand consultant and author of Build a Brand in 30 Days, said: "Consumers don't like to look weird, and glasses like these can prevent people from being able to pay attention to what is going on. You certainly couldn't walk down the street while wearing them."

By fitting sensors and cameras to help the wearer remain aware of what is going on around them, Apple hope they have overcome this problem.

A spokesman for Apple said the company does not comment on patents.