Thanks to Patently Apple, we recently saw how Apple could be planning a smart bezel on the iPad. Now it seems Apple engineers are also working on a similar concept for a future model iPhone. The iPhone smart bezel patent revealed by Patently Apple details some interesting features that could be added to the area surrounding the main display.
The smart bezel is described as an area outside of the main LCD screen comprising printed segmented electroluminescence displays. Presumably these would be dark until needed, and could be illuminated in different patterns to create buttons or give the user information depending on what the iPhone was being used for at the moment. This would free up more space on the main screen.
Gaming controls or other buttons could appear when needed and provide a touch sensitive surface in the black bezel surrounding the iPhone screen, hence the term "smart bezel." These controls would also be configurable by users using the Settings screen. For example, secondary display buttons (referred to as "side indicators" in the patent diagram) could be turned ON or OFF depending on a variety of conditions including orientation, location and application running or other factors. Even the brightness of the side indicators could be adjusted much like the main display brightness is adjustable on current iPhones.
Although the feature could make it into future iPhone designs, the likelihood of seeing a smart bezel in the iPhone 5 remains slim to none. Patents could go either way, as Apple might seek to protect an idea but never implement the concept on a final consumer product. Any major addition to the iPhone interface would take some time to develop. It's still possible that secondary display features will make it into a future iPhone, but this is probably a way off. To date, leaked iPhone 5 designs show a larger screen with a smaller bezel, leaving little if any space for any smart bezel functionality in the next generation device.