The future of Apple's iPhone lineup as per various patents: oggle at some curious plausible features

When it comes to the Apple iPhone, there's always a steady amount of rumors and hearsay circulating in the air. The devices that Cupertino releases each and every year are well among the most popular devices; usually, right after a new one (or ones) gets unveiled, the rumor mill slowly averts its eyes towards the upcoming generation, trying to speculate on every aspect of the next iPhone - design, hardware, and features.

Most certainly, we'll have to wait until early September before we can see what Apple's being working recently. The giant's upcoming developer conference, WDDC, will likely give us a sneak peek at the novel UI features (if any) that the next iteration of iOS will bring to the table, but when it comes to design and features, we can check out some of the patent applications that Apple has been filing with the USPTO. 

We've rounded up a few patents that Apple might use in its next smartphone.

Sidewall displays that will act as virtual buttons 

According to this patent application, the company might be looking into ways to fit side-wall displays that will act as dynamic buttons, switches, or even information screens and change their function in accordance to the user's current needs. The patent description claims that these displays might "include one or more flexible layers and may be mounted under a transparent display cover layer such as a layer of clear glass or plastic". Moreover, the patent description further explains that these might also be flexible and bent.  

Long story short, Cupertino might be thinking of ways to get rid of hardware buttons or at least employ a new philosophy behind them - dynamically-configurable, pseudo-hardware buttons undoubtedly sound pretty interesting.

Fingerprint scanner embedded in the display

According to a patent application that Apple filed in with the USPTO, Cupertino might be working on a device display that is able to register your fingerprint and act similarly to the existing TouchID-enabled home button of the company's more recent devices, such as the iPhone 6/6 Plus, the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air 2, and the iPad Mini 3. Although the patent images accompanying the patent show us an iPad, it's plausible that if Apple's indeed developing such a tech it will inevitably land on some future rendition of Apple's most successful line of products - the iPhone family.

As per the patent description, this fingerprint-scanning display is able to register up to four separate prints simultaneously. This is courtesy of a thin fingerprint-sensing layer, rich in sensors, positioned either below or over the display of the device. In the end, Apple claims that its tech could evolve into a "a full panel fingerprint sensor". It seems that the user will be able to "simply press a finger onto an icon placed on the display for scanning related to a user's ID". 

Hydrophobic coating

Waterproof Android devices are nothing new, yet Apple's never thrown in something similar in any of its iDevices. One of its recent patent applications, however, describes how the insides of future iPhones might be made waterproof - thanks to a "plasma assisted chemical vapor deposition", the hardware internals of the handset will receive a ultra-thin (the patent mentions thickness between 1 and 3 microns) hydrophobic coating. 

It is also described that this process, which makes use of a fluoropolymer gas, technically interferes with the electromagnetic interference protection of the components that all iDevices come with. A simple workaround is also mentioned - small openings in the EMI coating will allow the hydrophobic coating to be successfully applied without compromising the electromagnetic-repelling qualities of the EMI coating itself.

Popping-up home button that doubles as a joystick

This patent describes a physical home button that also doubles as a gaming joystick. slightly emerge from its standard position and allow gamers to use it as an additional input controller. In particular, the physical button will slightly pop up and allow users to use it as a dedicated input controller. The patent description is quite vague, but it states that this home-button/gaming-joystick crossover will provide almost the same functionality as a regular gamepad.

Despite the lucrative concept of minimizing many games' interface by adding a dedicated gaming controller, this button brings a handful of drawbacks as well. It goes without saying that more moving components exponentially increase the chance of damage to the home button itself.

One image sensor, multiple camera lenses

According to this patent application description, Apple could have found a way to make a single image sensor register light from two different sources. This means that both the front-facing and the rear cameras on a future iPhone might use one and the same imaging sensor, which will save a great deal of space inside the device. The current generation of the rear-positioned iSight camera and the selfie FaceTime HD one both user their own imaging sensors.

What's more, this patent also highlights the use of "machine-controlled" mirrors, the purpose of which is to guide the light from the lens to the sensor. As a result, the sensor does not necessarily need to be directly behind the lenses. The mirrors have no moving parts as they can switch between reflective and transmissive modes thanks to electric current.

Still, Cupertino is yet to be granted this patent. Intriguing nonetheless.

Optical image stabilization with mirror tilt actuation tech

This patent application reveals that Apple's mirror-based image stabilization tech will compensate jerky motions that users tend to produce with their hands while bringing out their photography-savvy inner self. Unlike the existing OIS technology which either moves the whole lens setup or tilts both the lens and the camera sensor, the tech that Cupertino's reportedly prepping in its labs consists of a camera sensor and lens elements that are independent from one another.

Here come mirrors - they navigate light from the lens straight to the camera sensor, somewhat similar to the way a submarine or a tank periscope works. The mirror will be paired with an actuator, which will tilt it and compensate user-induced movements that will normally add a solid amount of blur in the picture. 

Packaging allowing device personalization

According to this patent application, future iPhones might come with a package that will enable users to begin the initial setup and customization process of their new phones even when they're inside the original packaging. The process will allow users to simply tap their old device on the new one, which will begin the setup process. The patent description also suggests that devices will have a new operating mode in tow - "packaged mode" will be a power-saving one that will keep the device in a semi-standby state, allowing the setup process to begin at any moment. 



1. CreeDiddy

Posts: 2284; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

None of these patents will happen for the 6S/7 this year. It will be a minor upgrade to the 6/6 Plus with Force Touch, 2GB RAM, A9 processor.

7. waddup121 unregistered

Trust me...I bet only that hydrophobic coating will be the patent that will come to life. The Joystick and one of the camera tech if we're lucky too.

9. TerryTerius unregistered

Maybe. It's still a better bet that they wouldn't implement any of this until next year at the earliest though. But who knows.

17. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

That coating would be awesome, no added thickness, no design compromise.

22. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Yeah just like the rumors of s6 none will come true most likely even if Apple's have those technologies it may delay it even cause it can't maded to mass productions.

29. hound.master

Posts: 1044; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

Damn, i meant the iPhone 6

24. engineer-1701d unregistered

hydrophobic coating on a nano base is done already,

23. engineer-1701d unregistered

as a samsung fan i like the concept on the main page, looks beautiful, the navy camera i am down with cant believe others had not done that, unless its something to do with the gov patterns for subs

26. tedkord

Posts: 17512; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

That seems right. And, of course, a new version of iOS.

3. thegeneral7010

Posts: 437; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

well this is a true revolution but when it comes to apple i think that we can see that it in 2050.

4. gaming64 unregistered

Man those are some whacktatous patents.

8. TerryTerius unregistered

I'm not so sure about the joy stick thing, but pretty much everything else on this list would be awesome if Apple actually does it. Granted, this is Apple so the likelihood of anything happening anytime soon is kind of low due to their slow-trickle philosophy. But still, I hope they implement even half of these ideas one day. If for no other reason than to further push the envelope. I'm for ideas no matter what company they come from. Actually, on second thought I'm unsure about the virtual side wall buttons too. Mostly because hardware buttons are easy to find by feel, so you never even think about it. If it was software-based, especially customizable buttons; you would have to look every time you wanted to adjust something. That actually sounds like a step back. Functionality is new, but in practical terms it seems unnecessarily complicated. Unless Apple somehow finds a way to use force touch in a way that makes each one feel distinct. But even that would only apply after you have pressed something, there'd still be no texture to tell you before hand. But this is Apple, I'm sure they'll think of something if they decide to do that.

31. Hitokage

Posts: 103; Member since: Mar 01, 2015

In all fairness, once people get used to the location they'll probably not need to look. Now, the issue of pressing them while trying to use the phone might happen, just on android software keys can be a pain

13. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

all of this sounds nice but what they really need to do is find a way to fit their AX Processors in their phones and use a better gpu so they can up their display resolution without compromising on the iphone's amazing gaming performance. and they really need to do something about that horrible battery life, and add some more ram. maybe then I'll get an iphone and the high price will be justified. I know i have a 5s but its my mom's old one so i'v never bout an iphone before and i only use it to play games i can't get on android.

15. yoosufmuneer

Posts: 1518; Member since: Feb 14, 2015

S6 edge, isheeps-"gimmicky" Few months later.. Iphone 6s/7 edge- same isheeps "true innovation".

19. TerryTerius unregistered

To be completely fair, if Apple does include virtual buttons and the general degree of customization this article insinuates, it would actually be a lot more useful than the functions on the S6 edge. I own one, and can still admit that. Granted, this is more like a three-sided screen than a curved screen. At least from the way it looks in the patent drawings.

20. TerryTerius unregistered

But you are right, the hypocrisy is rampant.

25. razraptre

Posts: 168; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

When will people realize that just because something is patented does not mean it will appear in the next phone -_- The title says 'plausible features'. I can bet that over 80% of these will never make it into a phone within the next 5 years.

27. tedkord

Posts: 17512; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Most will likely never make it. Apple practices defensive patenting, filing overly broad patents for things they know others are working on (yet they have never worked on themselves) just to ensure others can't use the tech. The fingerprint under the display one from this article is a prime example.

30. ameran

Posts: 344; Member since: Dec 04, 2013

these are only stupid ideas. I don't see anything useful in these patents.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit for samples and additional information.
FCC OKs Cingular's purchase of AT&T Wireless