Apple’s rumored bezel-less iPhone could be made possible with an OLED screen full of holes, according to a patent granted today. The patent, spotted by Apple Insider, covers an array of OLEDs on a flexible surface, arranged with small gaps between them. Those gaps could help transmit information to a light sensor or camera under the screen, or they could enable speakers, notification lights, or a second screen under the first one. They could even form a “window” that let users see directly through the phone to another object, while the screen overlaid information onto the real world.
Patents aren’t an indication that companies are building something, and they’re often padded with details that just cover all possible bases. We don’t know, for example, if Apple thinks it’s a good idea to put a screen inside a screen. The company has patented some fairly weird and unlikely concepts before, like a display that wraps all the way around a phone.
But this kind of display would (hypothetically) help solve some simple, decidedly non-silly problems. Where do you put the front-facing camera on a bezel-less phone, for instance? Currently, you can shunt it to a little strip on the bottom, which certainly doesn’t look awful. With this display, it could be placed right under the glass, something we’ve speculated you could do with existing translucent OLED screens. The same goes for microphones, speakers, light sensors, or any of the other little elements cluttering up your bezels.
Of course, there are some less obvious configurations, which are probably better to dream about than predict from. Take, say, a screen with “a secondary display that has display pixels that may be viewed through the openings” — maybe you can get a low-power E Ink status strip at the bottom of your iPhone. There’s also the drawing above, which shows “transparent window regions in the front and rear surfaces” of a device. This would be possible with one of the patented screens on the front, and a “clear glass plate or other transparent structure” on the back. So instead of getting augmented reality images through a camera feed, you could literally look through the phone and get information overlaid onto the real world.
Transparent OLEDs already exist, and a previous Apple patent covered putting a fingerprint sensor on a phone’s screen. Besides Apple, Samsung is also rumored to be making an “all-screen” phone. This patent doesn’t prove anything, but it provides another hint that killing the bezel is very much on Apple’s mind.