Apple documents could have revealed how the iPhone 14’s seemingly impossible new feature will actually work.
Widespread rumours suggest that Apple’s new iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max will get rid of the “notch” that has cut into the top of the display on iPhone’s for years. Instead, it will swap it for a small cut-out in the display, various reports have suggested.
But it remains unclear how exactly that will happen. The notch’s size is a result of the large number of components that are hidden inside it: it has various sensors, such as those for infrared, ambient light and the front-facing camera, as well as other technology such as a microphone and speaker.
One of the ways that Apple could cut down the size of that notch is using a “light-folded projector”, according to a new patent filed by Apple and published this week. Such technology reduces the space used up by the sensors, so that it can be used by the screen instead.
That would work by moving the infrared emitter, which throws out light onto the user so that sensors can see their face and let them into the phone. The light for that would be shot through a prism, turning the beam and meaning that the emitter can be moved away and beneath the display.
The publication of the patent is not confirmation that Apple will use the technology, and it regularly files patents for innovations that do not appear in products for years or at all. But the arrival of the patent and the rumour of the lack of notch on the iPhone 14 Pro do suggest that Apple is considering ways to allow for the hardware to be removed.
Apple already cut down the size of the notch between the iPhone 12 and 13. Much of that was the result of moving some of the components – the speaker and microphone – into the bezel around the display, rather than the notch itself.
Similar techniques have been used to hide or reduce the size of smartphone components in the past. For example, some other devices make use of a “periscope lens”, which bounces light around in the phone and allows for long zooms without taking up as much space.