Apple Patent Shows Advanced Work on "Smart Bezel" Technology
With touchscreen "real estate" increasingly at a premium on iDevices, Apple is looking into ways of moving controls off the screen entirely, according to a newly unearthed patent. The "selectively illuminated secondary display
" described in the patent would use illuminated symbols on the bezel (the black area around the screen) to enable additional touch-sensitive areas, allowing a user to do things like navigating a game or controlling a media player without changing what is on the screen.
Using what is referred to as a "printed segmented electroluminescence display," future iDevices would have areas around the screen that would light up when needed, with icons that would be self-explanatory thus reducing the need for on-screen instructions. Figure 3A on the image above shows an example of such a segmented display with multiple elements "formed from patterned electrodes." Notice how illuminating different elements allows different icons to be shown on the same display, with figure 3B showing a plus sign, figure 3C using the same display to show a directional icon and 3D an upward-pointing arrow. The patent references "SmartInk" technology from Pelikon Ltd.
that allows "morphing" or "reconfigurable" controls using electroluminescent flexible liquid crystals. So developers would be able to use these reconfigurable controls in creative ways to maximize the amount of screen real estate used for content, allowing users to control apps and games by tapping the bezel rather than the touchscreen.
The same patent also offers a hint that Apple is looking at touch-sensitive areas on the back of devices, a secondary interface that's been rumored before
. Vague references to "plastic or aluminum back plate and a transparent wall allowing a user to view a primary display and/or a secondary display" suggest that controls on the back of the device could be used to manipulate screen elements without covering them with their fingers, which would make for more immersive gaming and media-playing experiences and further maximize the available area on the screen.
As always, the fact that Apple takes out a patent on something doesn't mean that they are going to use that technology on an actual device anytime soon, if at all: they may just be protecting it so that a competitor can't use it. However, given there have been a number of patents revealed that indicate that a significant amount of thought has gone into the so-called "smart bezel," it's reasonable to expect that future generations of iDevices will incorporate touch input in areas off the screen, and do so in a typically intuitive Apple way.
Source: Patently Apple