Mobile devices are gradually creeping up in size, in turn meaning that there is more and more screen real estate to play with. The reliance on touchscreens has increased over the years, and the number of buttons to be found adorning the fronts and sides of handsets has gradually reduced. A patent filed by Microsoft relating to touch-sensitive bezels could means that future devices have no physical buttons at all.
The “Touch-Sensitive Bezel Techniques” patent was filed back in November 2012, but it has only just come to light. It described how future devices could feature touch-sensitive areas outside of the display that could be used to interact with a handset in various ways.
On many phones and tablets the only buttons that are to be found are the power switch and volume rocker. These could be replaced by invisible touch-sensitive areas that will give future devices a sleeker, smoother finish.
But the patent gets even more intriguing, going so far as to suggest that the currently “useless” bezel of a phone or tablet could be used as additional display real estate: “In at least some implementations, the bezel portion has display capabilities such that when a touch input is detected, the display capabilities in a region of the bezel portion can be made active to cause a menu to be displayed in the region of the bezel.”
The bezel’s touch zone could actually be quite complicated, ending up being much more than just a simple replacement for buttons. The patent suggests the possibility of gesture support by analyzing “characteristics of the touch input comprising a size of the touch input, a shape of the touch input, a location of the touch input, a velocity of the touch input, a distance the touch input travels, a centroid of the touch input, or a lifetime of the touch input.”
Any concerns that merely holding a phone will result in unwanted interaction with the OS can be allayed by a method of “determining a likelihood that the subsequent touch input is indicative of a user’s intention to interact with the menu” rather than just making contact with the device.
What do you make of it? Are you a fan of traditional buttons, or does this proposed idea sound like a more effective use of space? Could it be something we see in the Surface Mini or Surface 3 next week?