A OnePlus patent has surfaced online indicating a new design for a possible future smartphone, and it shows a device with no visible front facing camera and a rear camera that can be hidden away. 

The front of the device features a huge, edge-to-edge display with really slim bezels and no intrusion of any kind for a selfie camera. That means no notch, and no hole-punch cutout. Looking at the top edge in the images, there's seemingly no pop-up camera either which begs the question: where is it? 

There are a couple of possible explanations for that. It could be making use of a hidden in-display front camera, which wouldn't be all that surprising given that Oppo - its sister company - has shown off a working demo of that exact technology. So we know that's a possibility. 

On the other hand, it may just be a small detail left out of the patent design drawings. Looking around the edges of the phone, the only detail drawn is the USB-C port. There's no indication of any buttons, speaker grilles or ports of any other kind. 

It's possible this is a design for an innovative port-less and traditional speaker-less phone, similar to other concept smartphones we've seen in the past. It's also possible the details weren't seen as necessary to include, since the patent seems more focussed on the rear camera mechanism.  

WIPO/OnePlus

With that said, the majority of patent images like this do include antenna lines, cameras, buttons and ports in them to be accurate, and so it may be OnePlus is genuinely working on a phone with no buttons and an invisible selfie camera. 

Until 2020, we'd have thought OnePlus wasn't in the business of building this kind of innovative and concept-type device, but we know the manufacturer is capable of it now. 

Early in 2020 OnePlus launched the Concept One; a phone with colour-shifting electrochromic glass panel over the cameras which hide the lenses from view. 

Which brings us nicely to the cameras on the back of the patent image. While they're in view at times, the cameras also have the ability to be hidden. 

Unlike the electrochromic glass on the Concept One which uses varying voltages to switch from transparent to translucent, this appears to have a cover which slides over the top of the rear cameras, as pointed out by LetsGoDigital who published the images

It's something we've not seen on a phone camera for many a year, but back in the days before the all-touch smartphone revolution began, that was relatively common place. 

Phones like the Sony Ericsson K850i and Nokia N73 had plastic lens covers, but that kind of approach seems dated and lacking in elegance, given the look and design of modern ultra-premium smartphones. 

It's hard to say how exactly OnePlus will hide the cameras on the back of this phone, and we don't know if the company is even planning on launching this particular device. Even the patent images reveal the company is looking at a few different designs and methods of hiding them. 

Whatever happens, we know - at least - that it's still trying to push boundaries on what can be achieved with smartphone design.