Apple may be able to make its next generation of phones even thinner and more compact by ditching the bezel and everything it hides underneath. The company has just been awarded a new patent to integrate its ambient light sensor within the display itself, meaning it might not need that extra space around the edge of the display.
The point of an ambient light sensor is to let the phone’s system know just how much light is hitting the screen at any one time. It’s the reason the iPhone (and most modern smartphones from other manufacturers) can automatically adjust the brightness of the display, so you can read it in any conditions without blinding yourself, or wasting battery unnecessarily.
That sensor is usually placed laterally on the front of the device, but Apple’s patent suggests the company has a working design for placing it under the display itself. AppleInsider claims this technique could also be used for the proximity sensor, further eliminating bezel space around the display.
The only potential downside to relocating the sensor is that a portion of touch sensitivity on the display in that area could be lost. It might function a little like some of the first-generation touchscreen phones, where only a section of the display was touch interactive — but in reverse, with only a small section of inactive display.
The patent suggests that the passive part of the display could be used for showing information, such as the time and remaining battery life.
Cutting back on the bezel would result in smartphones that are truly edge-to-edge screens or, at the very least, a reduction in weight and size. If combined with Apple’s previous patent filings for a smaller form factor power button and a touch sensor built into the display instead, we could see further size reductions for future iPhones.
Chances are any such a device would warrant an even tougher protective case, so it’s not clear how much of a space saver it would be, but it’s an interesting design nonetheless and could hint at what the future of smartphone designs might be like for Apple hardware.