Apple has been rumored to be working on smart bezels for its iOS device series for a long time. The idea is to make all of that empty black space actually do something by imbuing the bezel with all of the touch sensitivity of the display itself. The problem, of course, is how to convey to a user that they’ve just interacted with something in the bezel, as well as avoid accidental triggers.
An exciting new patent shows us exactly what Apple has in mind: bezel’s imbued not just with touch functionality but with an underlying electroluminescent display that would allow the bezel itself to light up with words and icons when needed.
The idea is this. Touch capable bezels would be able to light up with developer customizable icons if called for by an app. For example, a newsreader app might generate a glowing refresh icon in the bezel next to the iPhone’s home button. These icons would be called “Side Indicators” and while they can be interactive, they don’t have to be.
Pretty neat, but do you remember those rumors that future iPads and iPhones might have touch capable rear casings? It’s an approach that has since been adopted by the likes of Sony with their upcoming NGP handheld console, in that it has a rear-mounted touch panel. Apple’s new side indicator patents specifically reference these older rumors, and indicate that the same smart bezel technology could be used to light up the backs of iOS devices as well.
These patents look like Apple is thinking really seriously about smart bezels. Personally, I’d rather see them eliminate bezels entirely than make them smart, but there’s various reasons why that’s a lot trickier than it sounds. If you can’t ditch bezels forever, I guess making them actually do something is almost as good.