Sharp plans to bring 3D smartphone to U.S., India, China in 2011

Nov 17, 2010
Tech

Japanese electronics company Sharp (SHCAY.PK) has announced it’ll be marketing smartphones using its glasses-free 3D display technology starting in 2011, adding another big set of Android-based contenders to the ongoing smart phone wars. Sharp is rolling out the first handsets to use its autostereoscopic 3D technology, the Galapagos 003SH and 005SH Android-based phones, next month […]

Japanese electronics company Sharp (SHCAY.PK) has announced it’ll be marketing smartphones using its glasses-free 3D display technology starting in 2011, adding another big set of Android-based contenders to the ongoing smart phone wars.

Sharp is rolling out the first handsets to use its autostereoscopic 3D technology, the Galapagos 003SH and 005SH Android-based phones, next month in Japan, but don’t expect to see them internationally.

Instead, Sharp has been showing off a prototype phone the guys at Engadget recently wrote about, with a 3.7-inch, parallax barrier 3D screen and a 3D camera that includes HDMI output for connection to a TV or computer. So we don’t know exactly what phones will finally see U.S. shelves with 3D displays, but they do know they’ll be running Google’s (GOOG) Android OS.

The big push towards 3D

Pushing 3D smart phones as early as next year seems like a big jump, but really, 3D is an untapped sector of the potential market for mobile devices. Sharp developed the technology for its displays a while back — it even briefly released two laptops with parallax barrier screens — and it’s Sharp’s technology that powers Nintendo’s upcoming gaming handheld, the 3DS.

The big difference between 3D we’ve all experienced at the movies, and 3D on Sharp’s new phones and the 3DS, is that they don’t require any kind of glasses. The screens are autostereoscopic, meaning they produce images to be viewed by each eye individually. That’s basically what 3D glasses do: if you think in the simple terms of the red and blue 3D glasses, those work by showing one eye only blue things, and the other only red things. The mixture of the two images by your brain produces the illusion of 3D by overlaying the information from one eye on top of that of the other.

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A push to 3D is already working its way through other entertainment sectors, with Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) banking on the technology being the next big thing in portables, and Sony is throwing a lot of weight behind 3D on larger screens with its PlayStation 3 and in its TV markets. Sharp seems to be the only cellphone maker building the technology straight into its phones, but it isn’t the only company thinking in that direction.

Toymakers getting in on the act, too

Earlier this month, toymaker Hasbro (HAS) announced plans to begin releasing a device called My3D in spring 2011, which allows users to view and use 3D content on the iPhone. The device looks like a pair of binoculars that the iPhone slides into at the back, and will require specially produced 3D content, like games, movies and other apps.

Compared to the much more elegant design of Sharp’s screens for its phones and the 3DS, My3D already seems a bit ancient, but it’s also the only rumbling of 3D technology currently developing for the iPhone. And Hasbro’s device has some pretty great 3D content support from third parties, including Dreamworks (DWA) and Sony (SNE). Add that to the fact that it’s the only game in town for the iPhone’s captive audience, and My3D will still probably do pretty well.

And while Sharp is hitting the ground at a full sprint on 3D phone technology, that doesn’t mean there will be a road underneath it when it lands. Like My3D, Sharp’s phone is going to need a lot of support from app makers and content providers to make sure there’s going to be anything 3D to display on its screen. If the technology is hard to develop for, or if not many developers buy into it, having a 3D screen won’t much matter.

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At the very least, it seems the future is now being assessed in terms of smartphone displays, and Sharp is leading the pack. How well its upcoming phones perform in the global market could create some very big ripples for other companies — Apple (AAPL) included — who are fighting for space in the same smartphone pond.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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