Apple may introduce an iPhone model in the future with a dedicated touch panel on one edge, according to details from the company’s latest patent filed by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). While several smartphones have previously been released by other companies with displays that curve to the edges in a continuous fashion, the iPhone maker’s patent suggests that the company could introduce a small, discreet display with virtual buttons, similar to the Touch Bar technology that was briefly included in its MacBook Pro range.

The patent, granted to Apple on March 12, is titled “Electronic devices with side displays.” It describes smartphones with “flexible displays” that are bent to “form front side displays and edge displays” while visually separating the two with masks or activating and deactivating the corresponding pixels on the screen. The document, posted on the USPTO website, also contains diagrams that show the alleged device equipped with edge panels.

Apple’s latest patent describes the use of the secondary display panel
Photo: USPTO/Apple

The first image in patent document envisions a device that looks like an iPhone along with a thin display located on the left edge, below two physical buttons. Fig. 8 shows the secondary screen that is used to display the multimedia currently playing on the smartphone, while FIG. 18, Fig. 19 and Fig. 20 show how song titles and artist names can be displayed on the bottom panel, along with what appears to be support for vertical scrolling.

In addition to displaying information and controls for music and media playback, the secondary display can also be used to display contextual controls when using specific applications. Fig. 16 includes virtual buttons for controlling the flash, switching between photo and video modes and a shutter button – these will probably appear when the camera app is open. Meanwhile, Fig. 15 shows application icons for Messaging, Calendar and Camera applications, suggesting that they may be offered as quick launch options.

The patent also suggests the inclusion of haptic feedback, as well as a transparent button with a lens – the latter of which can be used to navigate the user interface while using the phone. Meanwhile, Fig. 14 shows the use of the virtual sidewall buttons to form a virtual controller while using the device in landscape mode.

Apple has received the patent that allows the use of these side displays resembling the Touch Bar technology, but this is no guarantee that these panels will make their way to iPhones in the coming years. The company has received several patents for technologies that are yet to make their way to its smartphones, and it remains to be seen whether a future iPhone model will feature these displays.

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