Apple's future iPhones could hide FaceTime camera & flash inside earpiece grille

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited August 2014
The clean and simple design of Apple's iconic iPhone could become even simpler, thanks to a new concept that describes concealing the FaceTime camera within the earpiece speaker slot, and even adding a camera flash module that would illuminate forward facing pictures.




The idea was presented in a newly published patent application discovered on Thursday by AppleInsider, entitled "Electronic Device with Camera Flash Structures." The proposed invention describes a camera and accompanying flash that could be hidden under the speaker port mesh found on a portable device like the iPhone.

Currently, the camera and ambient light sensor for the iPhone are located to the top and left, respectively, of the speaker hole on the iPhone. And there is also no camera flash for the FaceTime lens to illuminate "selfies" and other forward facing shots.

While the spaces for the camera and light sensor can be seen at certain angles on the black front-glass panel of the iPhone 5s, these spaces are readily apparent on the white glass that is found on the white and gold versions of the handset. These black "dots" stand out on what is otherwise a clean and simple appearance.




As detailed in the new patent filing, Apple has experimented with addressing this by placing the camera inside the speaker hole found atop the front of the iPhone. In the application, Apple states that the lens, along with a camera flash, could be located under the speaker port mesh, making them essentially invisible to users and providing a cleaner design.

Apple even notes that the addition of a camera flash to the front of the iPhone could be beneficial for more than photos. In the filing, the company says that adding a small light to the speaker slot could serve as a "status indicator," notifying users when a message has been received.

In the filing, Apple notes that if camera components are "poorly mounted" within a portable device, the result can "detract from an otherwise aesthetically appealing device appearance." It describes its concept as a potential improvement that could make its way into future products.

The proposed invention, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed by Apple in February of 2013. It is credited to inventors Lee E. Hooton and Kelvin Kwong.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 67
    crowleycrowley Posts: 6,065member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Apple even notes that the addition of a camera flash to the front of the iPhone could be beneficial for more than photos. In the filing, the company says that adding a small light to the speaker slot could serve as a "status indicator," notifying users when a message has been received.

     

    :wow:

  • Reply 2 of 67
    I'm assuming that they'd not have the grille obscure the area immediately in front of the camera lens (and probably also the flash if that interfered with even light diffusion).
  • Reply 3 of 67
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,453member
    Yes lets patent that idea, because NOBODY has ever thought of such a thing before.

    And people wonder what's wrong with the current patent system.

    Frankly I'm stunned AI could get seven paragraphs out of this "story". Didn't there used to be a back-page area in AI to keep stuff like this off the main news flow?
  • Reply 4 of 67
    andysolandysol Posts: 2,506member
    Interesting idea- while the main benefit would be the aesthetics- it would clearly give you the ability to make the top bezel much smaller without compromising the odd look of a camera on the side- like the iPhone 4
  • Reply 5 of 67
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,105member

    The only thing this camera will take a photo of is the sky since everyone has been programmed to look at the screen to take photos (or guess when taking selfies). This has to be for something else because it doesn't make any sense.

     

    I looked through the patent and it's very extensive, even mentioning hiding the lens and flash behind an LCD window (like the fancy window shades). I think this patent is for something totally different than what we've seen from Apple and might actually be for something like an arm device (ok and iWatch). The design talks about an embodiment that could be a cellular phone but also an "other device." (Ref: Page 1, paragraph 0002, found after figures) Just because it shows something that looks like an iPhone doesn't mean that's the only embodiment it could go into. 

  • Reply 6 of 67
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,348member
    mac_128 wrote: »
    Yes lets patent that idea, because NOBODY has ever thought of such a thing before.

    And how many people are doing it and making it work?

    Thinking of something and executing are two different things. I have no problem protecting people who come up with innovations and execute on them. Patent trolls and non practicing entities (NPEs) on the other hand....
  • Reply 7 of 67
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member

    I have friends that came from Android to iPhone and one thing they miss is the notification light so they don't have to wake their phone to see if they missed call or got a text message. I wish Apple would do that with iPhone.

  • Reply 8 of 67
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    I always thought the proxy sensor, at the very least, should be in the same slot as the speaker. Probably the camera too. It doesn't matter on the black models, but I'm surprised Ives had tolerated those scattered black holes on the white models. Just make the slot bigger and line those components all up in a row! There must have been some engineering barrier I can't imagine.
  • Reply 9 of 67
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by Mac_128 View Post

    Yes lets patent that idea, because NOBODY has ever thought of such a thing before. And people wonder what's wrong with the current patent system.

     

    Except they didn’t patent the idea. Pay attention.

  • Reply 10 of 67
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,511member
    nagromme wrote: »
    I always thought the proxy sensor, at the very least, should be in the same slot as the speaker. Probably the camera too. It doesn't matter on the black models, but I'm surprised Ives had tolerated those scattered black holes on the white models. Just make the slot bigger and line those components all up in a row! There must have been some engineering barrier I can't imagine.

    Ives? Burle Ives? That's the only Ives I know.
  • Reply 11 of 67
    crowleycrowley Posts: 6,065member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

     

     

    Except they didn’t patent the idea. Pay attention.


     

    Huh?

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    The idea was presented in a newly published patent application discovered on Thursday by AppleInsider, entitled "Electronic Device with Camera Flash Structures." The proposed invention describes a camera and accompanying flash that could be hidden under the speaker port mesh found on a portable device like the iPhone.

  • Reply 12 of 67
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,348member
    rogifan wrote: »
    I have friends that came from Android to iPhone and one thing they miss is the notification light so they don't have to wake their phone to see if they missed call or got a text message. I wish Apple would do that with iPhone.

    You can - it's hiding in the accessibility settings: http://www.imore.com/how-use-led-flash-your-iphone-notification-alerts

    I do miss the LED on the top of the phone that the Blackberrys had - that was far more useful.
  • Reply 13 of 67
    crowleycrowley Posts: 6,065member

    The iPhone rear flash is way to bright to use as a notification, I'm not even sure why they bothered adding that in as a feature.

     

    Plus, I think it only flashes for a little while doesn't it?  Would probably be a big battery drain otherwise.

  • Reply 14 of 67
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by rob53 View Post

     

    The only thing this camera will take a photo of is the sky since everyone has been programmed to look at the screen to take photos (or guess when taking selfies). This has to be for something else because it doesn't make any sense.

     

    I looked through the patent and it's very extensive, even mentioning hiding the lens and flash behind an LCD window (like the fancy window shades). I think this patent is for something totally different than what we've seen from Apple and might actually be for something like an arm device (ok and iWatch). The design talks about an embodiment that could be a cellular phone but also an "other device." (Ref: Page 1, paragraph 0002, found after figures) Just because it shows something that looks like an iPhone doesn't mean that's the only embodiment it could go into. 


     

    How does changing the placement of the camera and adding a flash make it any more difficult to take a photo with the front facing camera than it is now? If you are looking a the screen you can see exactly what you are going to get a picture of. Maybe I missed something in your first couple sentences - the only selfies I have seen where the results are poor are cases where people do not know how to use the device in the first place - such as turning the phone around and using the back camera because they don't know to switch cameras (if so equipped). And while I suppose using a mirror gives you a wider angle view - why do so many folks hold the camera between themselves and the mirror? hold it off to the side and look at the screen to compose the shot - then look at the mirror if you want to snap the picture. 

     

    Regarding patents and patentable ideas - it is a complicated thing - you want to describe your idea with enough detail to ensure protection but also not too much detail to give away how you are pulling it off while also being generic enough to prevent someone else from infringing on your patent by coming up with something that superficially looks different enough but is just a rip off of your work. 

     

    As far as the patentability of this idea - and I have not read the patent - I would think that the patent is not simply "hey lets put the camera behind the mesh" but more along the lines of "lets put the camera behind the mesh so as to improve aesthetics, perhaps simplify manufacturing, improve customer experience, and still have it deliver the same or better quality and performance that established methods already in use" 

     

    While I am not expert - I doubt that I could patent the idea of mixing cheese popcorn and carmel popcorn in the same bag - but I should be able to patent the design for a process by which cheese and carmel are both applied to a single batch popcorn simultaneously in a desired proportion and mechanically bagged. Although I think the simple mix cheese and carmel would likely fall under trademark or copyright or some other category if all I am doing is mixing to existing products. 

     

    Just as you cannot patent the idea of a folding convertible top on a car - but you can patent a novel mechanism by which the top is deployed or retracted. 

  • Reply 15 of 67
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by Crowley View Post

    Huh?


     

    Fool me seventeen times, shame on me. You know exactly what the patent is about.

  • Reply 16 of 67
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DocNo42 View Post









    You can - it's hiding in the accessibility settings: http://www.imore.com/how-use-led-flash-your-iphone-notification-alerts



    I do miss the LED on the top of the phone that the Blackberrys had - that was far more useful.

    the LED they had stayed on until they unlocked the phone. I don't think this flash is the same thing.

  • Reply 17 of 67

    This is why I love Apple...what other company is so dedicated to constant improvement? The only one I can think of is McLaren's F1 team.

     

    Best.

  • Reply 18 of 67
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,348member
    rogifan wrote: »
    the LED they had stayed on until they unlocked the phone. I don't think this flash is the same thing.

    When I tried it, it flashes periodically until you unlock the phone. The brightness of it's flash and it being on the back made it pretty useless for me so I turned it off and just rely on vibrations or occasionally looking at my phone. Not ideal, thats for sure.
  • Reply 19 of 67
    allenbfallenbf Posts: 993member

    I appreciate the minimalistic nature of the patent.  It's one reason I only buy the iPhones with the black face, I don't like seeing the proximity sensor & camera on those with the white face.

  • Reply 20 of 67

    What a god-awful, friggin freaky idea for a cell phone.  As it is, I can hardly even see the earpiece grille because of accumulated dust and fuzz. That's just normal use of a phone... doesn't affect sound transmission appreciably.  But you sure aren't going to get good optics thru it.  Compare that to a transparent sapphire covering over the main camera which can be readily cleaned, or the oleophobic gorilla glass over the face-time camera which we all know can be cleaned by a wipe across our sleeve.  That ain't gonna cut it with the earpiece grille.  Nope, this would be a big step backwards.  Thankfully, the phone is merely one "embodiment".  Hopefully there are others for which this is more practical.  :)

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