MacBook Touch bar and an iPhone 14 Pro


The MacBook Touch bar debuted in 2016(Image credit: Future)

Notwithstanding the addition of the Action button and Dynamic Island, Apple’s top-end iPhones have remained nigh on identical to one another since the launch of the iPhone X in 2017, but a new patent suggests the company’s tried-and-tested iPhone design could eventually change in one big way.

As spotted by AppleInsider, Apple has been granted a patent for technology that could bring a side-mounted display – yes, a side-mounted display – to future iPhones. Judging by the illustrations attached to the patent in question, this display would offer similar functionality to the unfairly maligned MacBook Touch Bar, which last featured on the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020).

When we say ‘side-mounted display’, we’re talking about a thin display that sits below the iPhone’s volume or power buttons. Some existing phones, like the Honor Magic 6 Pro, boast edge-to-edge curved displays, but Apple’s patent seems to concern a display that exists in isolation of the main front display.

Presumably, this side-mounted display could be used to display status messages, control music selection and launch apps, in a manner akin to the Dynamic Island, though it might also serve as a full-blown replacement for some physical iPhone buttons. Apple is already rumored to be switching the iPhone 15 Pro’s capacitive Action button for a mechanical one on the iPhone 16, so a side-mounted display could represent the next stage of this design philosophy.

Apple patent showing a side-mounted iPhone display

Apple patent showing a side-mounted iPhone display

This side-mounted display could be used to display status messages and launch apps(Image credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office)

This side-mounted display would be separate from the main display(Image credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office)

In the illustrations above (figures 15 and 16), Apple has used the Messages, Calendar and Camera app icons as examples of how this side-mounted display might be used, so it’s clear that it’ll be a versatile iPhone tool, if indeed it does come to fruition.

Of course, the latter point is far from a given. Patent applications represent the earliest stage of an idea’s development, and this example may simply be a case of Apple looking to prevent other manufacturers from implementing similar technology on their own upcoming devices.

That said, Apple is clearly experimenting with radically different iPhone designs – rumors suggest we may see the company’s first foldable iPhone as soon as 2026, for instance – and there’s only so many times that iPhone loyalists will settle for incremental annual upgrades.

So, while we’d strongly advise against expecting a side-mounted display on the iPhone 16 (read: forget about it), we do think that some genuinely exciting iPhone design upgrades are on the horizon.

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Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site’s daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.

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