Apple has been granted a patent application, which empowers it to create "smart bezels." Those chunky bezels that frame screens on future Apple devices could come with key UI functions. Unlike felt-touch buttons, a smart bezel is an extension of the device' touch-receptive area beyond the display and around the bezels, with a key difference. The bezel would know when you're actually trying to use it, and when you're just trying to rest your palm on it.
A smart-bezel would be particularly useful on devices that have small screens, where UI (user-interface) designers have to ensure objects are big enough to get under a typical fingertip. With smart-bezels, the effective touch-sensitive area of the device is increased. UI designers could also draw a cue from aircraft multi-function displays (MFDs), where a display is framed by a continuous row of buttons, and pushing each button would correspond to a function displayed on the screen.
The patent reads:
In one embodiment, the display device has an electronic display having an active area for presenting visual content; a housing holding the electronic display and having an opening allowing a person to view a first portion of the active area; and a bezel about the opening, the bezel covering a second portion of the active area and providing a window through which at least a part of the second portion can be viewed.
A row of embedded sensors would know when the user's fingers are moving away from the screen, and towards the bezel, energizing it. The portion of the bezel could even get illuminated, indicating it's ready for touch input.
A sensor system senses when a person is close to touching the bezel or when a person is in touch with the bezel and generates a sensor signal." A controller is operable to adjust the appearance of the active area in the part of the second portion when the controller determines that a person has touched the bezel or is close to touching the bezel.
As of now, there's no word on any Apple product incorporating the technology, but iWatch and future iPhones could benefit from such a technology greatly.