Yoodley is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Apple’s newly granted patent shows it is considering sidewall displays for its devices. In case pushed, this might replace the iPhone’s physical side buttons as touch-sensitive digital displays.

The patent generally talks about “flexible displays,” which are repeatedly mentioned throughout the document. The idea of flexible screens in Apple’s patent is unsurprising, nonetheless. As we reported in June and July, Apple also received the grant for its two patents involving flexible displays for wearables and rollable displays for devices, respectively. Now, Apple continues this curiosity with the hope of bringing it to the sidewalls of its creations, which could include iPhones.

As shared by Apple in the document, it wants to create virtual displays in the sidewalls of the devices by using flexible displays. The company is also considering giving the displays touch-sensitive functions, allowing users to make inputs and control the devices using their preferred settings:

Active portions (illuminated regions of pixels) on the sidewall edges of an electronic device may be used to create virtual user interface controls such as buttons. The buttons or other user input interface elements may be reconfigured during use of the electronic device. For example, the user input interface elements on the sidewall of an electronic device may be repurposed for supporting user input operations in different operating modes of the electronic device. Virtual buttons on the edge of a device may be provided in place of tactile input/output components such as physical buttons and switches or may be formed as part of a dummy button structure or other mechanical feature.

During operation of an electronic device, a virtual button may be, for example, a virtual volume button for controlling audio output volume and may be repurposed based on user input to become a virtual camera shutter button for taking a picture or may be reconfigured to serve as a controller for another device function.

Interestingly, there is a portion wherein Apple has mentioned that the side displays could be set in specific functions and that it will show that function or mode that is currently enabled:

Images displayed on the flexible display may indicate to a user which function is currently being performed by the virtual button. Predetermined inputs to the touch-sensitive layer on the edge of the device (e.g ., tapping, sliding, swiping, or other motions of an external object such as a finger across the edge of the device) may be used to change the operating mode of the device.

This is highly similar to the current way the functions of iPhone 15 Pro’s Action Button are set through a dedicated UI. That means, in any case Apple pushes this idea, it is likely that the proposed virtual sidewall display could soon replace the Action Button, making shortcut customization more direct and easier for users. Yet, as our previous patent reports noted, a patent doesn’t ensure the concept will see the light of day. With this, time will tell whether this is indeed the future of Action Button (and possibly the other side buttons on Apple devices).

What do you think of this patent? Let us know in the comment section!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here