Apple Inc. has become one of the biggest and most successful companies on the planet in many respects. But one area in which the consumer electronics giant is particularly prolific, yet its activity doesn’t always come under a great deal of scrutiny, is with regard to filing patents. The vast portfolio of patents applied for by Apple gives huge clues as to the future direction of the company. So with this in mind, this article will look at some of the most intriguing patents that Apple has filed recently in order to discover what they tell others about the future of Apple products.
One of the interesting patents which may apply to the iPhone 7 is Apple’s May 2014 application for “Electronic devices with sidewall displays”. This obviously implies that in the future both iPhones and iPads may benefit from displays around the side of the devices and edges, as well as on the front where they obviously reside currently. According to the specific details contained within the patent, these sidewall displays could be an extension of the main touchscreen and are likely to feature touch sensitive properties.
In the very same month that Apple applied for the sidewall displays, another patent was also filed by Apple entitled “Configurable Buttons for Electronic Devices”. This would seem to be a pretty straightforward title that gives considerable indication into the idea itself, but to elaborate it refers to a physical button which also possesses a touch sensor. Effectively, such buttons would be able to discern when the finger of a user is touching it, as opposed to any other object. Obviously this is intended to prevent the iPhone from registering responses when pressed by errant objects, for example when being stored in a bag.
Apple seems to be particularly focused on the touch capabilities of its devices, as the corporation has also been awarded another patent which will help prevent accidental touch input from iPhone users on the move. This is an interesting patent as it describes a “variable device graphical user interface”, which can literally adapt to movement via motion sensors. It would appear that this may have functionality related to the Apple Watch as well as the iPhone, with health tracking features becoming increasingly important.
The big news on the block with relation to the iPhone in recent weeks has been the application by Apple for a curved screen patent. This technology is, of course, particularly associated with Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. , with the Korean corporation having made this a trademark of its output with a set of curved televisions that has created a big splash at consumer electronics trade shows.
Apple has traditionally been a setter of fashion trends as opposed to a follower, but the increasing prominence of curved screen technology would seem to have prompted this patent application by the consumer electronics behemoth. What this effectively means is that future editions of the iPhone could feature at least one model which has a curved display in common with the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and LG Electronics Inc. G Flex 2.
Aside from the curved display, Apple is also attempting to ensure that iPhones are flexible in other regards. In the early weeks of this year, Apple was awarded a patent which implies that a flexible iPhone will be released in the near future. The specific text of the patent suggest that this will enable users to access specific applications by bending the device in a particular direction. Fans of mobile technology who remember ‘bendgate’ will doubtless see the irony in this application!
In many ways, facial recognition has not become part of the mobile climate as quickly as was perhaps predicted. But in the dying embers of 2014, USPTO awarded Apple a patent relating to a “personal computing device control using face detection and recognition.” This clearly paves the way for Apple to include facial recognition as a security feature in future devices. This would seem to lend itself most obviously to the iPhone, which is probably a much more frequently stolen device than any other Apple product, but such functionality could certainly be included in the whole Apple range eventually.
This particular innovation is definitely expected to be included in the iPhone 7. The application for this patent was filed sometime ago in May 2014, and some Apple pundits even expected fingerprint sensors to form part of the security related to the iPhone 6. Although TouchID is already part of the iPhone’s portfolio of features, the vast 612-page application which Apple made for this patent suggests that the corporation foresees many more opportunities and possibilities for this technology in the future.
Fans of video games past will be fully familiar with the joystick, which was the approved method for controlling video games until the advent of the gamepad. Well, Apple seemingly wants to include a joystick within the iPhone’s makeup, with this particular patent suggesting that this device will be built into the Home button.
As with the historic usage of the joystick, this is intended to provide more flexible control for the raft of games now available on mobile platforms. The patent describes an iPhone Home button that can pop up thanks to a spring beneath it, transforming the device into a small joystick which is intended to enhance the ability to control games on the worlds most popular smartphone.
There have been a tonne of rumours related to the camera in the iPhone 7, and Apple has certainly done little to dissuade these by applying for numerous patents. Possibly the most interesting of these is the ability for the iPhone to create so-called “super-resolution” photos thanks to optical image stabilization. This is based around an incredibly intricate sounding system which involves stitching together numerous photographs in order to create a higher resolution.
Apple has also applied for a patent in order to enable iPhones to take 3-D photographs. Back in December 2013, an application made by Apple was based around a method of capturing stereoscopic image data; a technique which enables photographs to acquire the quality of depth. According to the patent, future iPhone devices, and potentially other Apple products with cameras, could select two suitable photographs and combine them in order to create the illusion of three dimensions.
This particular patent has been widely reported, with the Apple-following media particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of interchangeable lenses in the iPhone. Thus, over the year since it was first applied for, in January 2014, there has been a lot of speculation about when this innovation will first appear in the iPhone and iPad.
The patent is entitled “Back panel for a portable electronic device with different camera lens options”, which makes the intention of the application quite clear. It specifically names the iPhone in the application, which suggest that the smartphone will be the first recipient of this technology, possibly in the forthcoming next generation iPhone 7.
Based on what we know from the iPhone 7 already, it seems as if Apple is intending to significantly upgrade its photograph-taking capabilities.