The iPhone of the future

The iPhone of the future

Summary: What could Apple possible include that's new in the next iPhone? Here are four ideas -- complete with high quality rendered images -- based on patent applications made by Apple over the last couple of years.


Tech pundits expend a lot of effort trying to predict what new technologies Apple will pack into its next flagship smartphone. One method of reading the tea leaves and getting some ideas as to what might be on the horizon is to delve through the patents database and see what patent applications Apple has made to the U.S. patent office.

This is exactly what Nickolay Lamm of InventHelp has done. He, along with the help of a graphic designer, has picked out four Apple patents and created renders of how these innovations might look if integrated into the current iPhone 5 handset.

The following are all based on patent Applications submitted by Apple over the past couple of years.


This patent application outlined the integration of a mini or pico projector into iOS devices. While there isn't much that's sexy about projectors, the application also shows how the projector could also be used to interpret shadow and silhouette gestures, a feature that could be handy in darkened presentation rooms.

By combining gestures with the projector, to could be possible for two iOS devices to interact via the projector. For example, with two projectors in operation, Apple suggests that the image displayed on one could be moved to another using gestures.

The patent application also suggests that two iOS devices could work in unison to display a single, large image.

Aside from business applications, the projector could be used to display video, TV and even photos on a grand scale.

Smart Bezel

While Apple has made the screen significantly bigger on the iPhone 5, there's still an awful lot of bezel space that isn't being utilized. This patent application sees the bezel being transformed into a secondary touchscreen display.

The smart bezel patent application is an interesting one because it offers Apple a way to do something useful with all that wasted space around the screen. In the patent application, Apple suggests that it could be used to display virtual buttons. These buttons could move depending on the orientation that the device is held.

The patent goes on to suggest that the virtual buttons could be applications specific, or even location specific, and appear and disappear as required, eliminating clutter while at the same time providing functionality as required.


While the iPhone 5 glossy retina display is ideally suited to displaying photos and videos, it's not so good for text. This is where e-paper displays -- such as the one found on Amazon's Kindle ebook readers -- come into their own. This patent application shows how Apple could combine a standard video display and add an e-paper layer to it that users could switch to when required.

The patent application goes on to show how certain sections of the screen could switch to e-paper, while the rest remained glossy.

The hybrid screen idea is an interesting one because a display that could switch between regular to e-paper mode depending on the content displayed would consume a lot less power because the e-paper portion would only refresh when the content changes.

Transparent Display

This is an augmented reality patent that uses the iPhone's camera to display live video on the display, and then overlaying information on the display.

The patent application vision for augmented reality is an interesting one. Imagine being at a museum,  showroom or on holiday. You see something and you want more information on it. You whip out your iDevice and point it at the object, and the screen displays what you are looking for, but on the screen is also information about what you are looking at.

Image source: Nickolay Lamm/InventHelp.

Topics: iPhone, Hardware, iOS, Smartphones

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  • e-paper

    I am all for e-paper on mobile devices. Perhaps the tech is finally here to enable wider use of this technology, that will make wonders to the mobile world.
    • Pixel Qi

      They have some neat stuff. I don't understand why someone isn't using their tech besides the government.
      • Those screens are bad, alas

        Also, those patents mentioned in the article will have no real use for decades.
        • All those features already exist.

          Some of them have been on phones for a while now and others have working prototypes. There is nothing new here that hasn't been seen before.
          • Other companies have already beaten Apple to these features

            Here is Lenovo demoing a smart bezel feature:

            Here is Samsung demoing a pico projector on a phone back in 2009:

            Here is an augmented reality demo on a phone from 2009:

            Apple has become a company that spends more money on trolling for patents than on genuine breakthrough research. That's a fact!
          • Thank you for pointing this out, however...

            In the smart bezel illustration I tried to show something much more than simple illuminated buttons, like in that video. The illuminated horizontal lines appear when you are scrolling up or down a webpage and act like an additional screen. So your fingers aren't covering up the content as your are scrolling through it.

            Apple's projector patent shows the potential for using gestures on the projected image, not just a projector attached to a phone.

            The augmented reality app in that video is great. However, it's not the transparent augmented reality that Apple envisions in its patent.
            Nickolay Lamm
      • It's kind of on the fringe

        My first Android tablet, the Notion Ink Adam, came with a Pixel Qi display (Notion Ink is a small startup in India). The good: you absolutely can see the display in the bright sun. In fact, you can turn the backlight off entirely, and run in transflective mode, eliminating the largest power draw on most mobile devices, the display light. So that boosted battery life well pad iPad ranges.

        Now, you do have to realize what this is.. it's more like the old sort of transflective LCD you find on simple devices: dark grey over a silverly light grey display. Not the sweet paper-like look of eInk. Totally functional, great for keeping my songbooks visible for guitar on the beach, etc. But a compromise of its own.

        On the other hand, the normal room, backlit, color display left much to be desired. You get used to high quality color on TV, on iPads and Samsung and ASUS and other tablets, etc... on OLED smartphones, etc. Then you see the Pixel Qi's washed out, very low contrast color. Not the end of the world, but I suspect the main reason it's not made it into any mainstream device.
    • Check out the new Android base "Readable" phone from Onyx

      Onyx International seems to be planning the release of the world's first ever smartphone with an E Ink display. The phone promises a one week battery life.
      There you go Danbi. You might be their "target audience" ;-). I don't see myself getting an exclusive readable phone. But who knows maybe there are a lot of people out there who want one. They would not have come up with this without some research right?
  • Projector Power Requirements

    The projector idea is pretty cool. That's be great for presentations. I wonder what the power requirements are. Do you think the iPhone would run hot or run out of battery power supply pretty quickly emitting all that light?
    • Nokia

      The old Nokias with built in projector weren't too bad on battery life...
      • Patent?

        Does it mean Nokia already has this patent?
        Tomas M.
        • Apple patenting preexisting tech again

          Why does everyone seem so surprised that Nokia had a projector phone first? Just read the news and you can see Apple suing just about everyone based on fraudulent patents they received for preexisting technologies. It's the one thing that irritates me most about both Apple and our retarded patent system. I guess if Apple didn't abuse the major flaws in our patent system, somebody else would. That still doesn't make it right, though.
  • Showing Up Late to the Party

    I like the Projector idea. e-paper is OK, however, I think there are likely better ways to address the issue of dealing with readability than by making a thicker phone with two screens. The 'Smart Bezel' has already been in production for a while, the Galaxy SIII has this feature now, so I'm not sure why they would actually get a patent for a competitor's current product feature. The Transparent display seems to be the same as Google Glasses also, so I'm not sure how they substantiate that these two products are patent-able.
    • Where is this...

      smart bezel at on the S3 exactly?
    • Apple has already patented Samsung technology

      "I'm not sure why they would actually get a patent for a competitor's current product feature"

      Apple successfully sued Samsung for making rectangular smartphones with rounded corners that look exactly like Samsung designs like the F700 and their photo frames.

      Apple can't innovate but they sure do litigate well.
    • Why they would actually get a patent for a competitor's current product?

      Simple - if Samsung hadn't patented it first (though they're working on it or using it before the Apple patent) then Samsung can continue using it forever.

      They just can't stop Apple from using it, and they can't license it out, though Apple could.
      William Farrel
      • such patent

        would be invalid.
        • Would it?

          I doubt Samsung is too poor to fight Apple in court should the time come, but smaller companies would be.

          With the changes in patent laws, it could come down to the scenerio that William Farrel mentions.
          John Zern
          • Kinda...

            A patent with prior art found on it isn't automatically invalidated. You have some work to do.

            I don't know if Samsung actually has this or not... most of the Android devices with extended touch areas extended them to static functions, not reprogrammable ones. Though it might be hard to argue that Apple's thing is all that different than the "soft" buttons from Android 3.0... the fact they're on a different screen doesn't seem to make it effectively any different. But these things are all based on the exact implementation, and sadly, the skill of the inventor's patent attorneys.

            It used to be, under the old system, that patents followed the "first to invent" doctrine. So Apple could get a patent, challenge Samsung, only to find that Samsung had invented it first. If this all happened within a year of Samsung's debut of that invention, they could actually get their own patent. After a year, the invention's no longer patentable.

            In the current system, it's first-to-file... if Apple files and gets the patent, they're the only ones who will have that patent. Samsung could still challenge it in court based on their prior art, and if they win, the patent's tossed out and no one gets it.

            Technically speaking, the prior existing Samsung thing should invalidate Apple's later claim, but there's no automatic mechanism to see this happen. Once a patent is granted, it's assumed that the PTO did their homework, the inventor was totally honest about his knowledge of prior art, etc. These are usually not the case: the PTO never looks beyond the existing patent database for prior art, the examiners rarely apply the test of "obviousness to one skilled in the art" the way it was intended, and there's no easy way to trigger a re-examination. You have to go to court, except in the rare, very egregious cases (like Grolier's basically patenting the whole concept of Multimedia, some years back).
  • Amazing to see Apple invent all of this stuff

    Smartphone with projector in it? Never been done before.
    June 2010