Apple has just been granted a new patent (via AppleInsider) for unique bezel technology that could not only add touch controls to a bezel on a small device screen (like one for an iWatch), but that would also make it possible for that bezel to fade in and out of view, providing maximum screen real estate when required, and then coming back into view when it would work better to have a bordered screen.
Why is that useful? Take a look at the iPad mini, and it begins to make sense. With the mini, Apple wanted to maximize screen real estate but minimize hardware footprint, so it reduced the size of the bezel considerably. The new narrower bezel on the sides is great for portability, but also makes it harder to hold without touching the screen itself, which necessitated building new tech to discount accidental touches around the edge of the screen.
The new patent granted today specifies a bezel area that could be hidden or revealed as needed, based on context and touch, changing the appearance of the bezel component when certain touch situations are detected. This could illuminate a part of the defined bezel area, change its color, or even turn it from completely transparent to opaque, creating a bezel where there apparently wasn’t one before.
This has a number of potential implications for use in gadgets: It could make the bezel fall away completely for applications that are best suited to full-screen use, like video playback. Enabling full-screen video wouldn’t even require that much extra in terms of development resources, so it’s a prime use case.
Other potential applications including making the most of a very small screen, like one you might find on a smart watch. Apple has been ramping up trademark applications for the “iWatch” moniker in a number of countries including Japan, Mexico and Taiwan, so it looks more and more likely we’ll see that device come to market soon. And the iWatch would be the definition of a small-screened device, since I can’t imagine Apple wanting to go much larger with the screen than it did for the previous generation, square iPod nano.
A disappearing bezel allows for the combination of maximum versatility with very little available screen real estate, to build interfaces that work differently for different apps, and yet suit each perfectly. It would be rare to see an Apple patent go into effect so quickly, but this one does seem quite situationally appropriate.