Apple has just been granted a patent for its latest invention, “Microperforation illumination”. If you’re now giving your screen a blank look and trying to re-read “Microperforation illumination”, then don’t worry, as far as I’m aware, that’s normal. In-fact, once you get past its confusing title, the technology isn’t too complex, and isn’t dissimilar to the illuminated capacitive buttons that you might find on your typical Android device , only cooler.
Essentially, the idea is to make a number of ‘microperforations’ in the body of a device. If the perforations are small enough, and there are enough of them, they’ll be indistinguishable by the naked eye. This means that, with a controlled light source, a capacitive button can be built into the body, and be invisible until it is needed. This differs from a simple on-screen button in the fact that there is a physical button, but it will only show when it is needed. This means that aesthetically, the device can be much more pleasing, as the unlit button is not visible when the device is turned off, unlike most capacitive buttons.
This technology can be implemented in a number of different ways. It can be used to create invisible capacitive buttons, status indicators, or for an illuminated logo (think MacBook) that is only visible the the device is turned on.
This is all explained (in a very technical manner) in Apple’s patent application:
“While providing attractive visual display elements and indicators for a user is very important in many electronic devices, much of the aesthetic appeal of a device can quickly be compromised if the visual display elements do not transmit enough light to be adequately perceived by a user. The aesthetic appeal of a device may also be diminished if inactive visual display elements remain perceptible to the user when in an “off” state.”
It is proposed that the perforations will be precisely laser-cut. This means that the shape of the holes that are made can be easily and very accurately chosen. In doing this, light intensity through the holes can be altered, as can the focus of the light.
Where this technology gets really cool though, is when touch screen displays are involved. This means that a touch screen can be totally invisible when not in use, so you can wave goodbye to your iPhone screen being a different shade of black to the black glass panel on its front, personally, I think this can be really ugly, and is especially evident on white iPhones, where the black display rests on a white glass panel, I don’t know why this bugs me, but it does, and puts me off white Apple devices.
Like with all patents, whether this technology will claw its way into reality is unclear, but it’s something that I’d love to see in Apple devices in the near future.