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article imageFuture iPhones may have wraparound glass, augmented reality apps

By James Walker     Jun 14, 2016 in Technology
Apple could be planning to develop an iPhone that features a curved wrap-around display and the ability to run augmented reality apps. The company was awarded a patent for the technology on Tuesday, indicating its interest in the area.
CNBC reports that Apple was issued with the patent today after a successful application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. As with so many patents before it, any secrecy surrounding the technology has now been eroded since its details are available online.
The filing describes a flexible display that could be formed into a "continuous loop" around the phone. This would create a wraparound layer of glass which could be used to display images as if they are also moving in a continual loop.
Apple is interested in the technology because it would allow it to create phones with a higher screen to body ratio. It points out that the rectangular shape of modern smartphones leaves the sides and rear of the device either completely unused or adorned with small buttons that have a fixed position and function.
A wraparound sheet of glass would dramatically change this, putting the sides and rear to use as a primary input and output mechanism. The position of the controls could change depending on how you hold the phone and change their function in response to the app you're using.
Apple explained the reasoning behind its idea: "Form factor is an interesting area for development given that a large majority of portable electronic devices have settled into a standard form factor; namely a flat planar form factor with a display on one side and an opaque housing which contains the electrical components covering the rear surface of the device. Unfortunately, this popular form factor, leaves the sides and rear surfaces of the device unused or at best configured with buttons and switches with fixed location and functionality. Since many of these buttons and switches have fixed functionality they cannot always be incorporated into third party applications. Therefore, there exists a need for an improved form factor for portable electronic devices which allows functionality to extend to more than one surface of the device."
Apple suggests a multi-touch gesture along the side of the phone could be used to lock and unlock it, removing the requirement for a physical button. The volume rocker would be a touch control on the screen, capable of expanding when tapped and changing its location to match the phone's orientation.
The display's final feature is a way to create a 3D experience. It would actually include two screens, the second a bendable display inserted into the glass enclosure. This could render images on top of the glass, creating a sense of depth that could be used to create 3D images.
Apple patent filing for a wraparound smartphone display
Apple patent filing for a wraparound smartphone display
Apple / USPTO
A second patent develops the idea. Apple describes a "transparent display" inside an opaque housing for the circuitry. The resulting device could be held in front of an object to overlay images on the real world, using the transparent display. It would act like a kind of personal hologram viewer.
The technology could be used in a range of scenarios. Apple suggested it could be fitted to tour coaches and used to overlay information on monuments and key attractions, keeping passengers educated on the sights going by the window.
The patents indicate Apple is interested in augmented reality technology, an area that has become a lot more popular with tech firms recently. Microsoft's HoloLens holographic headset has attracted a lot of attention and is now in the hands of developers. Google and Lenovo recently launched the first Project Tango phones, handsets that include augmented reality features.
While patent applications are no confirmation Apple is building the systems they describe, the company is clearly developing designs that include AR tech. While it could be some time until its first products hit the market, the company won't do so without extensive research.
In the meantime, it is continuing to work in other emerging frontiers of technology. This week it unveiled a new version of its Siri digital assistant to launch with iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, competing with Google and Microsoft for voice control dominance.
More about Apple, Patents, iPhone, future tech, AR
 
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