Every time a new Apple patent goes public it sets off waves of speculation about the next iPhone. The latest round of patents is no different, and some features are already expected to debut on the iPhone 5 next summer. Two of these patents would make for some interesting changes in the next iPhone and beyond.
One patent shows a redirecting flash. Apple just added an LED flash to the iPhone 4 and the company is already looking to improve this feature. A redirecting flash would be capable of aiming and focusing light to specific areas in a photograph to help properly expose the scene.
Shown in the diagram, the subject would be illuminated by many different light source elements that can be aimed towards the dark part of the photo. These light source elements are pictured above the image capture lens, and in a departure from current iPhone design a physical shutter button is indicated. Another patent that could see implementation is a more radical change.
What if your iPhone had no physical buttons? The patent, titled "Hand held electronic device with multiple touch sensing devices" shows diagrams of portable devices with several finger-sized touch sensitive surfaces on the side or back of the hardware. These areas would sense different finger configurations, swipes and the like to send information to software running the device.The practical upshot of this system is that the device can sense if you're holding the iPhone with your left or right hand and act accordingly. It could even mean the end of physical volume buttons on the side of the iPhone. A swipe up or down along the side with one finger could achieve the same volume control without clicking. Pressure sensitive areas on the sides and back of the iPhone could make even more functions possible without adding any buttons.
Time will tell if these features make it into future iPhones. In the meantime Apple always has new patents up its sleeve.