Samsung has been at the forefront of the war on smartphone bezels over the last few years. Its curved OLED panels effectively erase wasted space on the left and right edges of the screen, but the top and bottom are much more tricky. Apple has famously punted with the iPhone X, leaving an island of bezel in the middle of the screen for the front-facing camera sensors. Samsung has filed a patent that offers a potential alternative — a smartphone with cameras and other sensors inside the display.
The direction Samsung and other OEMs want to move is clear. The more screen you can fit on the front of a phone, the better. Samsung has managed to shrink the bezel to a narrow strip at the top and bottom of the phone. The navigation buttons from the Galaxy S7 and earlier were ditched in favor of on-screen nav controls. The fingerprint sensor also moved to the back on the Galaxy S8.
The technology now exists to put fingerprint sensors under an OLED panel, which has been a goal of Samsung’s for years. However, these are still stock implementations from Qualcomm and Synaptics. Samsung is reportedly still working on its own version and may stick with a rear-facing fingerprint sensor for another generation or two. That leaves us with the remaining sensors on the front of the phone, and Samsung is clearly looking at ways to get them out of the way. The new patent describes a technology that would get those sensors inside the screen.
The patent shows a phone with a display that stretches from top to bottom. However, there are holes in the panel where sensors can peek out. It looks like the usual selection of sensors you get on the front of Samsung phones. There’s a front-facing camera, an earpiece, iris scanner, ambient light sensor, and IR lamp for the iris scanner. Each one would look like a small gap in the panel, but they’d arguably be less intrusive than a full notch missing from the screen. Developers might have a harder time designing around them, though. Users might have the option of shrinking the display area to omit the area with sensor holes.
Samsung also included a different full-display phone that looks very much like what we’ve seen from Essential. This rendering shows a phone with a small round notch in the middle housing the front-facing sensors. It seems unlikely Samsung would go with a design so similar to Apple or Essential if it can avoid it. The holey display might come to be one day, but for now, it’s just a patent filing.