Apple could be about to add visual indicators and touch-sensitive buttons to the bezel that surrounds the display of future devices like the iPad and the iPhone, going beyond the standard touch-sensitive buttons and notification lights found on many phones today.
Filed in 2009, the newly awarded patent, published by the US patent office, suggests the creation of a device that has “hot spots”, allowing you to “magically” interact with a device without touching the screen. It's something that potentially could make it's way to devices like the iPhone 5 or the iPad 3.
The application, entitled "Electronic Devices with a Primary Display and a Selectively Illuminated Secondary Display" notes that current touchscreen devices must display a virtual button on the display to show a user where to press.
The problem, though, is that those indicators occupy space on a screen that is better used to actually display content. Real-estate is at a prime, so to speak.
Apple's answer, according to the patent, is to have a secondary display around the bezel that could guide a user to providing inputs on the device, or it could act as the inputs themselves with the use of a touch panel.
The secondary display could be selectively illuminated depending on the use of the device, and appropriate graphics and icons would be displayed when users have the ability to select something related to the active application. It could also illuminate based on the orientation of the device, whether the user was holding it in portrait or landscape mode.
It’s an idea that’s been tried many times before in different guises. The Sony Ericsson C902 in 2008 used touch sensitive buttons that appeared and disappeared depending on the function of the phone – ie. whether you were using the camera or not. Olympus to has dabbled in a touch sensitive bezel that, when activated, lets you flick between images by just touching the case of the camera rather than any specific button. Both are different, but both try and achieve the same goal.
It’s also worth pointing out that before you get over excited a patent is just that, protecting an idea that might happen, but equally might not.