HTC and Google have been putting some cache onto squeeze-based interface features into their recent flagship smartphones to launch a multitude of apps (or, in the case of the Pixel 2, just one app) and even micro-functions within those apps. But it seems that Apple may have some plans with that same interaction medium.
A patent filed back in September of 2013 indicates that the company has also been looking into pressure sensors within flexible smartphone housings as options for launching apps. It has left the possibilities open to more sensors being placed in more areas of the phone such as taking place of the volume buttons and even tracking movement along a side of the device.
These sensors may take up less space than actuators, but it must be noted how the housing design will have to accommodate for issues such as material stress.
In some implementations, the force sensing compliant enclosure may include multiple strain concentrating portions that may form pockets or notches in one or more deformable housing walls of the force sensing compliant enclosure that may each include one or more sensors. However, in other implementations the strain concentrating portion may comprise a groove that runs along an inner surface of one or more deformable housing walls, such as across an internal perimeter of the force sensing compliant enclosure.
As for replacing actual buttons, there are already capacitive solutions being used that can deliver the same result with less finagling. What kind of costs or corners Apple is willing to cut to make a “button” “press” will surely be interesting as we move along with further iPhone designs that hope to be “buttonless.”