Rumors can always be counted on to give an idea of what future iPhones may have in store, but there’s always an air of uncertainty about them. Patents, however, while still somewhat speculative, can confirm that Apple is working on something.
Take these two patents, which were just awarded to Apple this week. The first, with the compelling title, “Electronic Devices with Touch Input Components and Haptic Output Components,” describes how a device would work with touch controls instead of actual buttons. According to the patent filing, the touch controls would have circuitry that “may provide haptic output in response to touch input.”
This patent seems to confirm a report last October by Ming-Chi Kuo, who tweeted that the iPhone 15 Pro will have solid-state volume and power buttons. However, in addition to the power and volume buttons, the patent filing also shows diagrams that include an area where the Home button would be located. Consistent reports have surfaced about Apple researching ways to implement Touch ID without a Home button in future models of the iPhone SE, but it’s not clear if this patent is related to that research.
A second similar patent, “Electronic Devices with Display and Touch Sensor Structures,” explains how “display layers and touch sensor layers may be overlapped by enclosure walls in an electronic device.” What’s most intriguing about this patent is that it specifically describes how touch input could be implemented in a phone that folds.
“A foldable electronic device may have a flexible transparent wall portion that joins planar transparent walls,” according to the patent filing. That sounds like a description of the “joint” that would connect the two halves of a foldable device. The patent also describes touch controls within the out-facing parts of the foldable device. The patent’s summary states that the technology would implement a “touch sensor layer and display layer [that] may extend under the front and sidewall portions of the glass layer. A touch sensor layer may also extend under the opposing rear wall.”
Apple has a history of not being first to market but being better when it actually arrives, and this patent seems to show that Apple is trying to take a different approach with a foldable device. Rumors of a foldable iPhone have floated around ever since Samsung and others released the first foldable Android phones. Now Samsung is preparing the fifth incarnation of its Galaxy Fold, while most rumors put a folding phone or iPad more than a year away.