No more buttons? Apple secures patent for invisible input areas

Apple is never afraid to drop features from their devices that they perceive as archaic. We have seen the company ditch all ports on the MacBooks in favor of USB-C, remove chargers from the box and even abandon the headphone jack on the iPhone.

In hindsight, this seems like a mixed track record. Now Apple seems to be working on a way to cut off yet another key aspect of many devices – physical buttons.

What Apple is currently proposing is the creation of dedicated surfaces on products that will be undetectable under normal circumstances. These surfaces will be riddled with microperforations which will enable light to pass through them.

Whenever physical input is needed, the region will be made discernible through illumination and will function as an input device. To facilitate the latter, the technology seeks to implement sensors that will register touch or pressure and respond to them in very much the same way as a physical button would.

When the aforementioned sensors are not in use, they will be disabled and the entire surface will seamlessly fade away into the device. The rationale behind the design choice is the lack of “flexibility or adaptability” of physical input mechanisms, which may sit awkwardly when not in use.

The potential of such technology is virtually limitless. From dedicated notification buttons that display relevant information, through temporary elegant sliders on bezels (reminiscent of the MacBook’s Touch Bar) to even something as radical as an all-glass iPhone design.

The only catch is that this technology works with a limited number of materials like glass, ceramic and plastic. Due to Apple’s philosophy with regards to build quality, this hindrance somewhat limits the potential of the novel technology.

In all fairness, physical buttons have started becoming somewhat obsolete in recent years. Users are getting ever more comfortable with ever fewer buttons. Apple is slightly pushing the limits – but that is often the case anyway.

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