Apple has been teasing us with various smart bezel patents over the last year but a new patent application revealed by the USPTO today, provides us with how they're intending to implement this feature and the details will blow you away. Apple intends to introduce a method that employs a very cool secondary display scheme that utilizes a printed segmented electroluminescence display. Apple intends to use the secondary display to introduce a new set of illuminated indicators that would be able to morph into various controls for work and play. Illuminated gaming and productivity controls could be built into the face-side of the bezel and/or selected back-side areas of iOS devices like the iPad. Apple is about to raise the bar for interactive device interfaces that will, no doubt, put absolute fear into the hearts of every iOS device wannabe competitor.
The Problem to Solve
Apple first lays out the problem to solve by stating that traditional electronic devices include a display for providing visual outputs to a user. For example, a traditional device may include a liquid crystal display (LCD) for providing visual outputs to a user. Some traditional electronic devices may further include a touch interface overlaying the display for receiving inputs from the user. For example, a device may include a touch screen assembly with a display for providing outputs and a corresponding touch interface for receiving user inputs. To assist a user in providing inputs, traditional devices use the display to provide indicators to the user regarding where and how to provide a touch input. For example, a traditional device may display a virtual button on a touch screen to indicate that a user can touch that portion of the screen to provide an input. However, providing such indicators occupies space on the touch screen that could otherwise be used for displaying visual content.
Apple's patent covers systems and methods for selectively illuminating a secondary display. An electronic device could include a primary display (e.g., a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen) and a secondary display (e.g., a printed segmented electroluminescence display). The primary display could be used to convey visual content to a user, and the secondary display could be used to guide a user providing inputs to the device. For example, the secondary display could be selectively illuminated to provide one or more indicators that represent where or how a user can provide inputs to the device.
A secondary display could include multiple regions, and one or more of the regions could include multiple segments. Different regions of the secondary display may be selectively illuminated to draw a user's attention to those regions or an area adjacent to those regions. For example, a region of a secondary display may be illuminated to draw a user's attention to an adjacent area of a touch screen. Different segments of a secondary display region may also be selectively illuminated to form indicators that convey information to a user. For example, a secondary display could selectively illuminate a subset of segments to form an indicator instructing a user to provide a certain type of input.
A secondary display may be selectively illuminated based on a determined condition of the electronic device. For example, a device could include a motion sensing component for determining the angle at which the device is held (e.g., portrait orientation or landscape orientation), and the secondary display could be selectively illuminated based on the determined orientation. A determined condition could include any suitable condition of the device, including its orientation (e.g., portrait or landscape), location, operating state, or active software application.
An Illuminated Home Button & Secondary Display Control Example
In our February patent report titled "Apple Talks up Smart Bezels + Live & Reconfigurable MacBooks," we specifically stated that Apple was strongly suggesting that a new smart bezel may not have a traditional home button. Well, below is an example of how that could look like using Apple's intended use of a secondary printed segmented electroluminescence display. Apple could create a very simple yet very cool illuminated home button that only appears when your hand approaches the home button area as shown below in a generic example that shows off this technology.
Apple points primarily to their iOS family of devices such as the iPod and iPhone. The iPad isn't mentioned only because it didn't exist at the time of the original filing. This type of secondary display could completely reinvent the iPod Classic by allowing the interface below the LCD screen to morph between music player and perhaps a new phone display as shown above.
Apple's new design will incorporate various sensors including motion, positioning and physiological so as to understand the orientation of the display so it could change the secondary display orientation and illuminated buttons or indicators. For instance, Apple could include gaming pad-like controls only when the iPad is in landscape mode or activate iBook reading features when that app is open in portrait mode. Of course the intelligence extends to the applications at hand. If you pull up a game, the controls may just appear instead of having to call them up. If you use a painting program, third party developers will be able to create unique tools to be illuminated in the smart bezel area. The possible combination of icons and applications are endless and will provide Apple and third party developers with a huge new world of creative opportunities.
An Overview of the Smart Bezel's Secondary Display
Apple's patent FIG. 2 is a schematic view of device 200 for selectively illuminating a secondary display.
According to Apple, the housing of the iOS device could include a plastic or aluminum back plate and a transparent wall allowing a user to view a primary display and/or a secondary display. What could this mean? Well, instead of just guessing, you could check out a patent illustration that we presented in our Tablet Prophecies report posted in January 2010. It specifically illustrates back panel touch zone controls. Is that cool or what! In fact, here's an example of that feature.
Illuminated Indicators for Work & Play
Apple states that the secondary display could include or be coupled with a transparent wall that forms a front portion of the housing and integrated in one or more plastic portions of that housing. Additionally, a region of a secondary display may include different segments that could be illuminated separately or in combination to provide different indicators as shown in FIGS. 3A to 3D above. The examples of 3B and 3C represent illuminated indicators that could instruct a user to provide inputs corresponding to a directional and/or gaming pad. Indicator 3D may be used for scrolling.
Viewing a Map Example
Apple's patent states that if a user is holding the device flat and viewing a map provided through the primary LCD display, the device could selectively illuminate one or more of regions noted above display as numbers 221-223, regions 231-233, regions 241-243 and regions 251-253 to instruct the user to proceed towards a destination. Continuing the example, the device could selectively illuminate one or more display regions in array 250 on the left side of the display to direct the user to move forward, turn left, or turn right.
Controls or Secondary Display + Front and Back Device Interface Options
Apple's patent FIG. 6 illustrates the iOS's display for Side Indicator controls; FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrate the primary and secondary display positioning in front and back areas of any iOS device designed for use with a secondary display; and FIG. 7 illustrates s flowchart for selectively illuminating a secondary display.
Apple credits Gloria Lin, Andrew Hodge, Taido Nakajima, Bruno Germansderfer and Saumitro Dasgupta as the inventors of patent application 20110080348, originally filed in Q4 2009. Please note that some sites are speculating that this will be ready for the iPhone 5. Although it would be fantastic if Apple surprised us all with this feature sometime this fall, one has to remember that patents usually take time to work through the system. Apple's multiple patents on this project would suggest that it's progressing well. However, building false expectations to a specific time of delivery should be taken lightly.
Related Patents of Interest: 1) Apple's iPad May Gain an Intelligent Bezel in the Future, 2) Apple's Media Players May Gain Cool Sense Line Controls and interestingly, 3) Apple Engineers: Smart Devices Covers are a Paradim Shift. The latter is very interesting because today's patent may actuallly shed some light on how Apple could provide device case for handhelds that could morph into various configurations. If you haven't seen this patent report before, then you might just want to check it out.
Update 7:21 EST: If you consider yourself a real geek, then you'll appreciate this video of another geek playing around with electroluminescence on a circuit board that could work with a display. But remember, you have to be a geek to appreciate this because it's not a polished product by any means. To the geeks amongst us: enjoy.
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