While cameras and camera flashes are more or less an integral feature in smartphones these days, their presence can sometimes prevent a sleek and minimalist phone from being created due to the camera + flash’s design being rather out of place. This might not be a big deal for most of us, but it is still something worth thinking about especially as designers try to come up with new ideas for products. Interestingly Apple has thought about that too and in a patent recently discovered by Apple Insider, it has been revealed that Apple has filed for a patent for a technique that allows components to be displayed only when they are needed.
Such a system can be found on Android devices where the home, back and options button can be hidden or displayed depending on the situation. However those are soft keys which are lit up using LED backlighting and does not truly “hide” the component. What Apple has suggested is the use of a polymer dispersed liquid crystal window that can “change between opaque and transparent configurations,” giving the illusion that these hidden components “appear as from out of nowhere.” For example in the case of the camera – when not in use, the window will hide the camera and its flash unit, but when a camera app is launched, the window turns transparent revealing the component.
Another example is in the diagram above where a fingerprint scanner is revealed when the user attempts to unlock the phone, and is hidden when the phone has been successfully unlocked. It sounds pretty cool and it sounds like we might be able to expect more sleek and minimalist designs from Apple in the future. However as Apple Insider has noted, it might be a while before that happens as the use of the aluminum unibody chassis makes this patent a bit tricky to pull off. This is compared to the iPhone 4/4S which featured a “glass sandwich” design.