The Essential PH-1 was the first smartphone to ship with a cut-out in the display to make room for a front-facing camera in a device that otherwise has impressively slim bezels.
These days the world has decided that phone with notches are taking their design cues from the iPhone X, but not only did Essential beat that phone to market by a half year, but the company applied for a patent on the idea way back in 2016 (an was awarded the patent about a year later).
But as we recently discovered, the notch (or “hollowed electronic display” with room for a camera) isn’t Essential’s only idea for developing a phone that’s nearly all-display. The company also applied for a patent on a pop-up camera, like the one Vivo uses for its Apex concept phone. And another Essential patent would apply to a “camera integrated into a display.”
In other words, you wouldn’t see a camera at all, because the phone’s front-facing camera would be hidden behind the display and it’d snap pictures by gathering light that shines through the screen and display.
This solution would enable Essential to build a phone with no top bezel and no notch. But it would require something like a “substantially transparent region” above the camera, that would allow light to shine through the display and into the camera lens.
It’s unclear whether that would lead to a funny looking display or fuzzy looking photos, but I suspect Essential would probably at least try to work out the kinks before bringing a phone with this sort of design to market.
Then again, it’s pretty common for companies to apply for patents on designs that never actually see the light of day. Just because Essential is filing patents on a bunch of different smartphone camera/display solutions doesn’t mean the company has any plans to use all of those solutions. Essential could stick with the notch for its next phone, build a model with a bigger top bezel, or even get rid of the camera altogether.
All we really know at this point is that the company does seem to have come up with multiple ideas for solving the where-does-the-camera-go question that arises when you build a phone with slim screen bezels.