There are plenty of rumors about Apple’s design plans for the iPhone 5, with many focusing on its screen. Will it be larger? Go right up to the phone’s edge? A new possibility we hadn’t heard before has been revealed through an Apple patent filing, using illuminated bezel controls as a sort of “secondary display”.
The idea outlined in the application calls for a ring of electroluminescent segments surrounding the iPhone’s screen. Portions could then be selectively illuminated to draw your attention to certain on-screen areas, or to provide feedback on device status. These types of displays aren’t likely to have pixel-level fidelity, but instead to consist of pre-printed icons: arrows, battery meters, and the like.
Apple discusses both using this auxiliary display just as a series of indicators, and also the possibility of reading them with touch sensors, letting them act as extra input buttons. The fewer inputs that have to live on-screen, the less display real estate is wasted on static buttons.
Now we’re running into some mutually-exclusive possibilities for future iPhone displays here; Apple can’t very well surround the screen with light-up indicators and also have it extend all the way to the smartphone’s edge. While the system described in this patent sounds really useful, the iPhone is largely about image, and a borderless display will look a whole lot more attractive than this option. Just, please at least keep it in mind for something down the road, Apple.