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.

via TechCrunch

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7 replies on “What if smartphone selfie cams took pictures through the display?”

  1. There are all kinds of trade-offs if you just put a camera under the display stack, ideally you would want to not use traditional optics at all and integrate the “camera” and display.That’s a bit more complicated. Optics ate actually the biggest problem with smartphone cameras and why DSLRs are better so finding to get rid of traditional optics would be a huge deal not just for display integration.

    BTW the Synaptics optical fingerprint sensor is more or less a camera and will be interesting to see how they scale it to the entire display in a cost effective way- they can’t do it with the current solution that’s a traditional CMOS device.

    1. I think the Ultrasound method of in-screen fingerprint scanner is superior.

      Although you have a point with the optics, but I don’t think it’s that impactful. Remember the front camera is still a tiny sensor used for highly compressed, well-lit photography.

  2. The world also incorrectly decided that the original iPhone had a lot of firsts, which subsequent patents showed they didn’t.

  3. I’ve stated this possibility before, and we will likely see it.
    …but earpiece?

    Earpiece/speaker still requires either a notch, or a bezel.
    So the problem is still unresolved, to have a borderless phone.
    Unless you use an actuator to vibrate the screen to emulate sound, and try to pass that into your ear. The problem with that is both the quality and the volume take a sharp nosedive. Not to mention that it gets affected by Screen Protectors and Cases. Owners of the Sharp Crystal know this all too well. And if you say, okay, I’ll use a tiny earpiece and shove it just at the edge… well, you would still need to create a bezel for it that’s, what, 6mm’s wide.

    However, overall, I do think smartphones will evolve to have rounded-corners like the iPhone and have them borderless like the Sharp Crystal/Xiaomi Mix. And they will achieve it with in-screen Selfie Camera’s and Vibrating Screen-speakers. Downgrades in quality and practicality….all for a different design and marketing/sales pitch.

      1. Yeah, I’m usually the grumpy one around here. Have to vent my spleen somewhere : )

    1. We dropped front-facing speakers for downward firing ones. What’s stopping us having the earpiece pointing up?

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