For months, rumours have swirled about Apple's top secret all-glass iPhone. We've tracked the developments closely, saying that early concepts looked ridiculous and would break too easily. But as a new patent shows, Apple is serious about this all-glass iPhone idea. Image: USPTO
In the patent, first reported by Patently Apple, Apple describes a curved display wrapping around the edges to for active sidewalls with "virtual buttons" or what appears to be a set of customisable touch-capacitive buttons.
The patent description sounds rather sophisticated.
Bent flexible displays may be bent to form front side displays and edge displays. Edge displays may be separated from the front side displays or from other edge displays using patterned housing members, printed or painted masks, or by selectively activating and inactivating display pixels associated with the flexible display. Edge displays may alternately function as virtual buttons, virtual switches, or informational displays that are supplemental to front side displays Virtual buttons may include transparent button members, lenses, haptic feedback components for providing feedback to a user when virtual buttons are activated.
The patent includes reference drawings that show several different uses for virtual buttons including shortcuts to the messages, calendar and camera apps. It also shows how the virtual buttons could change into other options, such as flash settings, once the camera app is launched. In other images, the title of a song that's playing is shown along the edge.
It's worth noting that some of the features described in Apple's newest patent are already being used in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, such as displaying the title of a song being played. The only major difference is that the Edge phone is pinched, not a flat edge as its shown in Apple's new patent.
The virtual buttons also echo some of the design language used in new patents granted for Macbook laptops, including the "zero travel" keyboard concept we reported on earlier this year. Apple's design team clearly loves touch-capacitive screens and buttons.
It remains to be seen whether the all-glass iPhone will ever go on sale. This year's iPhone 7 probably won't will include any of this new technology, and it will probably take a couple of years before an all-glass iPhone is ever shown to the public. Some suggest that the radical redesign could be ready for the iPhone's 10th anniversary in 2017. But if patent filings are any indication (and they often can be), then its appears that Apple really wants to create the all-glass abomination we always hoped it wouldn't in the not-too-distant-future.