Patent reveals how the iPhone may get a huge makeover

Diagram showing finger using side sensors on the side of iPhone
(Image credit: Apple)

Right now, it feels like a dam is breaking. For too long, every smartphone has looked and functioned pretty much the same, whether it's produced by Apple or an Android-based rival. Recently, though, that's started to change, with the release of the Nothing Phone, with its five new features that should scare Apple. Innovators are now daring to start to reimagine the smartphone... and according to a recent patent submission, it seems that Apple is not that far behind.

According to United States Patent 11,392,248, which was spotted by the Patently Apple blog, the company is planning to add brand-new functionality to a future iPhone, the likes of which we've not seen before.

The design concept, snappily titled 'Waveguide-based interferometric multi-point/distributed force and touch sensors', basically involves adding force and touch sensors to the side of a device, using a combination of sensors and lasers. 

Side sensors

Diagram showing finger swiping over a series of sensors

(Image credit: Apple)

This tech would allow you to use an app, check your mail or surf the web without ever touching your screen. That would mean being able to see the display in full, at all times, as well as saving it from those pesky fingerprint smudges.

To be honest, we can't imagine that side gestures could totally replace screen interactions. More realistically, we'd expect users to combine gestures on the side and front for speedy, two-handed operation. But anyone who's switched from a basic laptop to one with a touchscreen will know how much easier that kind of flexibility can make things in practice.

There's no reason, of course, that this tech would have to be restricted to the iPhone. If it works well, we'd expect to see Apple apply it to its iPads, MacBooks and iMacs too. It could also conceivably be used to make the Apple Pencil more sensitive and responsive, making it more like using a physical pencil, pen or brush when using the best Apple Pencil apps.

In short, we can't wait to see Apple move from patent application to developing this tech in practice. And the moment we hear of fresh developments, we'll be sure to share them with you here...

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.