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Apple has just been granted a patent for a new technology that could bring touch controls to the bezel of a device with a small display (via AppleInsider). The technology would be able to dynamically change between a place to simply hold onto the device with and an area for controls. Apple describes it as an “Electronic device, display and touch-sensitive user interface” and says the technology is centered around a layered stack of touch sensors and displays around the edge(s) of a device that could be selectively activated and deactivated.

For example, with the iPad mini, Apple wanted to get the 7.85-inch display in as small a package as possible, which meant a smaller bezel. A smaller bezel meant that it would be harder to hold without accidentally touching the display. To solve this, Apple developed a technology that was able to detect accidental touches versus intentional touches. This new patent could lead to a bezel that could only be present when needed and other times it could be used for controls or could even blend in with everything else and create a true full-screen appearance, ideal for gaming and consuming content. 

Display devices and methods for operating the same are provided. 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 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; and 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.

Given recent rumors, the obvious implication here is that Apple will use this technology with its supposed iWatch, which it has recently filed trademarks for in both JapanMexico, and plenty of other nations. On the iWatch, this technology could make the display bigger when needed and add a bezel when needed. And on a display under 2-inches, a little bit can go a long way in terms of increasing screen size.