Apple wants to make it harder to shoulder-surf iPhone users

iPhone 15 Plus review front angled
Who's looking at your iPhone 15 Plus? (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

'Shoulder surfing' is when someone with less than honorable intentions looks over at your phone while you're entering sensitive information, such as a PIN or password. It's a serious problem, and Apple wants to make it less likely to happen on an iPhone.

As spotted by AppleInsider, Apple has recently filed two patents for dealing with the issue. The first one details a "privacy film" that includes a "light-blocking layer" as one of the substrates in a phone screen, ensuring that you can only see light from the display if you're looking directly at it.

The second one describes "displays with adjustable angles of view", suggesting that users would be able to change the angle of view of a screen on the fly, as needed. In other words, you could switch on a "private viewing mode" when you definitely don't want anyone else looking at what you're doing.

These patents don't specifically reference iPhones, and the tech they outline here could also be applied to everything from iPads to iMacs. The usual disclaimer for patents applies though: these filings only indicate what kinds of tech companies are exploring, and it's no guarantee that said tech will end up in any consumer products.

Enjoying the view

Clearly a wide field of view is beneficial for users, because it means you don't have to be looking right at a display to see what's on it – that would get very annoying very quickly, especially on a large monitor that you're moving around in front of.

The wider the field of view on a display though, the less private your activities on it. "In some situations, such as when a user of a laptop or other device with a display is using the device in public, the wide viewing angle is undesirable as it compromises privacy," explains Apple in one of its patents.

We'll have to wait and see if Apple can develop this screen technology in a way that works effectively without adding too much to the cost of device production. Apple currently relies on third-party manufacturers including Samsung and LG for its device displays, so they would need to be involved at some stage too.

In the meantime, it's something to watch out for when using your phone or laptop in public: be aware of who might be lurking behind you, watching or even recording the keys that you're pressing to get into your various apps and websites.

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David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.