It seems they've taken a leaf out of Harry Potter for their latest idea - I don't know if JK Rowling will challenge their latest patent application but perhaps she should as it does have a whiff of 'inspired by' about it.
Apple are talking about invisible buttons. If anyone is going to be offended by a mobile phone festooned in appendages for turning them on and making adjustments, then it has to be Apple. Their approach to minimal hardware is famous; Steve Jobs challenged each and everly knob, dial and slider proposed for the original iPods and ended up with the devices that made Apple rich again. The iPhone has followed in the footsteps of the iPod but does have a lot more buttons than that original iPod did. I guess it does do a few more things than an MP3 player and there's only so much you can turn over to soft controls.
Plus the iOS is undergoing a radical overhaul that will see it move away from its real world images of torn notebook pages and crackled finishes to a new clean interface that will be minimalist in appearance. So no offloading hardware buttons onto the iOS anymore, I guess. Hence the patent for a cloak of invisibility.
In fact Apple's been beaten to this one, and not just by JK. My wife has identical flower patterned covers for her iPhone and her iPad. The cry of 'where's my phone?' resonates around our house on a regular enough basis thanks to the phone being left on top of the iPad, so much so it's become a bit of a family catch-phrase. And the amount of times the iPhone hits the kitchen floor tiles indicates that not all of the cries are in jest. Luckily the current version of the iPhone is still built with the high grade materials Apple are hinting at losing in future releases. If they do start making future versions out of cheaper materials - and a less expensive iPhone is a desirable future - then I guess matching iPhone and iPad cases might be off the menu.
The way the patent has it, the new iPhone buttons will only be visible when they are needed. They will be manufactured to a very high tolerance and will be almost impossible to see unless there is a need to use them. Some of the time that will be determined by the actions ongoing - an incoming call, for example. Alternatively they will become visible when your hand or finger passes over them, using heat signatures probably. It seems that microscopic pin holes in the buttons will allow light through when the button is needed.
The patent promises the phone will remain as clean as Steve Jobs could ever wish for, while being as festooned with buttons as the new leadership team deem necessary. My guess is that Steve would still want the button count to be a low as possible - it wasn't clean for clean's sake for Jobs, it was a means to an end where the user had as simple an interface as possible. My guess is that while the new phones, when they arrive, will look sleek and smooth, clean as a whistle. I'm not convinced they will be a minimal as Steve would have wanted.
But at least they will be available to Muggles.
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