Smartphones used to have physical keyboards, scroll wheels, and lots of buttons. Then along came phones with capacitive touchscreen displays and small bezels. These days most phones still have power and volume buttons, but that’s about it. And soon they could be gone too.

Chinese phone makers Vivo and Meizu are both expected to unveil new phones this week, and rumor has it that the Vivo model could be one of the first phones with no physical buttons at all.

Meanwhile Meizu may be eliminating something else commonly found on phones: a visible front-facing camera.

Vivo Apex 2019 render
Ben Geskin/@VenyaGeskin1 (rendered image based on info from Vivo)

It’s unclear from the latest leaks where Vivo plans to put the camera on its new button-less phone, or how users are expected to control the power and volume… but plenty of phones have supported a tap/knock to wake feature for a while that lets you turn on the phone using just the touchscreen.

As for volume controls, perhaps you’ll need to rely on software dials for that too… or maybe Vivo has added some sort of gesture support or touch-sensitive sides to the phone. We should know more when the company officially unveils the new Vivo Apex 2019 on January 24th.

Meizu’s new phone, meanwhile, will probably have power and volume buttons — but it could have a virtually invisible front-facing camera.

Some phone makers have already started hiding a fingerprint sensor in the display itself. Meizu may try to do something similar with a camera, hiding it beneath a transparent glass section of the screen so that you can make video calls or snap selfies when the camera’s in use, but ignore the camera when you’re not using it.

The rumor comes at a time when phone makers seem to be chasing the dream of an all-screen phone by adopting slim bezels, notches or even small holes in the display for the front-facing camera, or sometimes even pop-out cameras that hide behind the screen until you need them.

Update: Meanwhile Let’s Go Digital has uncovered a Samsung patent application that suggests the company is considering releasing a phone with a small secondary transparent display that covers the selfie camera hole, allowing you to see things like camera status information.

Just because Samsung has filed a patent application for the technology doesn’t mean it’ll ever see the light of day… but it does present another possible strategy for delivering a phone that doesn’t appear to have anything but a display on the front.

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5 replies on “Button-free, hole-free phones on the way?”

  1. AMOLED is more or less transparent from the back. Sure, you’d have to compensate for lost light, but you can just put a bigger sensor there to capture more light. The same is true for the proximity and the ambient light sensors. The only downside is that with a black screen and harsh front light (sun) the underlying sensors could become visible. But they can add a thin black LCD layer below the AMOLED to make it also black when not in use.
    I’ll be taking my 10% for the idea from Apple in stocks, thank you!

  2. Button free sounds like the most anti user design any OEM could come with to be honest. Hard resets are an essential failsafe.

    10 points to Vivo and Meizu for trying everything else to be notchless, although both shares a similar Achilles’ heel; poor UI/software implementation. The same excuse to keep things locked down, little to no dev support and again to avoid from keeping up the base Android ver + security patch levels.

    We can talk about the hardware extravaganza all day when these gets out but in the end, jaded users would rather pay less for “inferior” alternatives as long as those have better long term software support.

    1. While this is true it’s still possible. HTC knew this when they removed physical buttons but they rated people that the pressure sensitive “buttons” had independent circuitry/power allowing for hard resets.
      The question is whether these companies will follow suit.

Comments are closed.