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Apple patents ideas for a borderless device with a fingerprint-scanning screen

A list of newly granted patents hints at some of the features Apple may be building into a future device and potentially their next iPhone, including a larger, borderless screen with an embedded fingerprint scanner.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a list of 56 newly granted patents for the American tech giant on Tuesday.

Included among the patents were designs for a mobile device screen with bending edges, which would replace the device's bezel. This would increase the size of the touch screen without necessarily increasing the size or width of the device.

Apple's patented design for a device display with curved, bent edges.
Apple Inc
Apple's patented design for a device display with curved, bent edges.

"For devices with a touch screen, an increased display area can also provide a larger touch-active area. Typically, the display/touch-active area of a mobile electronic device is enclosed partially or fully by a border area," Apple said in the filing description for patent number 9,652,096.

"Further reducing the border area would nevertheless help maximizing the space available for the display/touch-active area of the device without increasing the overall size of the device."

This edge-to-edge, bezel-less display would be similar to the "infinity display" of the Samsung Galaxy S8, first released late in April.

Previous rumours have suggested that the next iPhone could feature a bezel-less display, as well as a 3D scanner that could be used for facial recognition scanning or 3D selfies. In fact, one of the newly released patents, number 9,651,417, is for a 3D scanning device. A picture from the filing shows how the device would work, depicts something similar to the Xbox Kinect, a Microsoft gaming device that can map a room and the movements of someone playing a game.

Apple's illustration for a 3D depth mapping system. A device, attached to the right of a screen, scans a room featuring two people.
Apple Inc
Apple's illustration for a 3D depth mapping system. A device, attached to the right of a screen, scans a room featuring two people.

Another of the patents is for a finger sensor built into a mobile device touch screen. Biometric scans are becoming a common security measure for verifying who is using a device and for online banking. The patent filing suggests building a fingerprint scanner into the touch screen would enable quicker verifications, which could for instance save time on authenticating app purchases.

"A fingerprint sensor may be particularly advantageous for verification and/or authentication in an electronic device, and more particularly, a portable device, for example," Apple says in patent 9,652,066.

"Where a fingerprint sensor is integrated into an electronic device or host device, for example, as noted above, it may be desirable to more quickly perform authentication, particularly while performing another task or an application on the electronic device."

Apple's illustration for a fingerprint scanner embedded into a touch screen.
Apple Inc
Apple's illustration for a fingerprint scanner embedded into a touch screen.

It's important to note that these patents don't necessarily mean Apple will use these ideas in the next iPhone. They may feature in a different Apple product altogether, or never actually get built, but they provide us with clues into what Apple is thinking and exploring.

Apple's recent earnings report was slightly disappointing, as it revealed iPhone sales were flattening. The company sold 50.76 million iPhones during the quarter, compared to 51.19 million in the same period the year before.

However, demand for smartphones overall remains strong, according to Marina Koytcheva, director of forecasting at CCS Insight.

"We expect the demand for smartphones to continue to grow in the next five years, as many people who still use feature phones will upgrade to more capable smartphones," she told CNBC via email on Tuesday.

"While, the growth rate has slowed down a lot in the last couple of years, we still project a growth of 5.4 percent in 2017, to 1.53 billion devices, and to 1.90 billion devices in 2021."

Premium, high-end smartphone makers may face pressure, as device owners are likely to replace their devices less often, but low-end, cheaper smartphones will benefit from increased demand from emerging markets, according to Koytcheva.

Hat tip to Patently Apple. You can read their report here.