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Google's Killing the Bezel
What It Means for the Patent Wars
Originally Published at http://goo.gl/MGvvsQ

The bezel is dead... long live the disappearing bezel!  Or, at least, that's the conclusion drawn from reports that on September 5th, Motorola will be announcing a smartphone with no bezel (http://goo.gl/iZB3r).

More specifically, they are replacing the bezel with a "disappearing bezel".  What does that mean?  I believe we already have the answer.  In Android 3.0 "Honeycomb", Google introduced on-screen buttons: back, menu, home, and settings (the latter having now been phased out).

What does this have to do with a disappearing bezel?  Everything.  These software buttons sit on a black bar that acts as a virtual bezel: touching it does not affect anything on-screen unless you touch the buttons themselves.  And at certain times, like when watching a full-screen video, the bezel (and buttons) disappear, and then reappear when you touch that part of the screen.

It's easy to imagine how this can be extended to all sides of the screen.  A bezel, despite Apple's assertions, is a necessary design element that should not be patentable: it helps prevent stray screen touches that would be caused by having no space between the edge of the device and the touchscreen.

But since Apple has had a modicum of success (not much) in convincing a few courts in a few jurisdictions otherwise, and might continue on that litigious path, Google needed a solution, and their solution is, if anything, a true 21st Century solution, while Apple is still defending a 20th Century solution.

Eliminating the physical bezel with a disappearing bezel means an edge-to-edge screen when you need it, but not when you don't.  Videos, photos, and other functions can take full advantage of the entire front face of the device, but stray touches are still eliminated (because the bezel reappears when you touch it).

This is not only an elegant workaround to the problem, it is if anything the next logical step that Apple, resting on its design laurels, failed to take first.  Apart from being a more advanced design, this takes a bit more of the wind out of Apple's patent sails, and perhaps puts some in Google's: a disappearing bezel isn't merely a design patent like a rectangle with evenly rounded corners, it's a software patent, and one Apple will almost certainly want to ape some time in the next 20-years.  Apple might find their own workaround, of course, but for a company that prides itself on an appearance of cutting edge design, it's still a blow to the ego.

Faced with Apple's patents, Google has put their talent to work not on devising half-baked workarounds, but on actually working through the issue to leapfrog their opponents to the next evolution of mobile technology whenever possible.  Samsung, HTC, and other Android partners should take note and try to do a better job of keeping on the same page going forward.

#Android   #Apple   #Patent
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46 comments
 
What about the front facing camera? Would kill mobile Hangouts....
 
So that's what the leading companies choose to do under apple and patent's pressure?
 
You would still have a small bezel to house the speaker for for instance a phone. So I guess they can fit the camera next to it +Thomas Morffew 
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+Ada Wang Work through the problem, yup... if you've got as much money and talent as Google and believe in Moonshot thinking, you should be able to work through almost any patent.
 
+Thomas Morffew Or, as +Arvid Bux says, it could be in a sort of "micro-bezel" whose purpose is just to house those things rather than prevent stray touches.  Either way, Apple's design claims don't cover it.
 
Sounds exciting +Eli Fennell - let's hope September 5th doesn't disappoint!  It would be great to have MOTO back in the game.
 
Hopefully Google patents it and locks apple out of future designs.
 
That makes a lot of sense. Having onscreen bezel would certainly a thing forward not just for Motorola's new phone, but all phones in general. If done right, this will set a precedence for future generations of smartphone/tablet design.
 
Full-screen model? Maybe this feature with a really new design makes me switch from Samsung!
 
+Shawn Latham Google patents everything they do.  They always have, they just came into mobile without a lot of mobile-specific patents.  There's a myth Google doesn't patent stuff... but they most certainly do.
 
Hey +Eli Fennell , my Galaxy S was stolen 2 day ago. I have no money for top ones like SGS III. Any suggestion in the $300 range or SGS II is the best alternative? What do you think about it?
 
+Marcus Sant'Anna The GS II is a great phone, it really is.  But it's not the end all be all.  I think the Razr Maxx is also pretty sweet, and then there's the Xperia S, which is the first non-Nexus added to AOSP.  I always recommend looking at all your options to determine what works best.  Are you on prepaid or contract?
 
I just hope that the miniscule bezel phone won't be exclusively available on Motorola's Intel phone. Medfield doesn't really seem a good solution for the u.s. market right now (given just how good the snapdragon s4 is for lte devices). Now Intel's next gen if they get a dual core with hyperthreading on a smaller lithography, THEN they'll be cooking with butter.
 
+Eli Fennell right :) I just hope the Intel variant isn't the "flagship" to debut it, I suppose. Medfield is just the baby step for Intel getting into the game and really doesn't hold its own against the newest arm processors like krait. Basically Motorola needs a phone that hits it out of the park in every area if they want to get their mojo back
 
+Jonathan Franklin Still, it makes sense to launch it on a Medfield... twice the "groundbreaking", means more than twice the press coverage.  The press will be covering the hell out of it.
 
+Eli Fennell I'm under a contract with TIM Brazil. I have a old qwerty Motorola and like very much. This Razr Maxx seems to be really nice but prices on ebay are also so high, +400 dollars...Maybe the SGS II is undoubtedly my best choice. Thanks!
 
+Eli Fennell I didn't say that they didn't, but things like bezels I would think they are only patenting now because apple is, and I am wondering how many other companies are now patenting things that they would never have pre-apple litigation.
 
+Justin Knotzke We won't know for some time, but I'm sure they've filed a patent, yes.  Patent filings aren't immediately made public.  And aren't approved for usually 3-4 years.
 
+Justin Knotzke they have to, or apple will patent it then go after google for using that design, since it is now first to patent, not first to invent. That's been there strategy so far, find something someone else is doing, patent it, then sue them for making that product.
 
Add that apple is a bit stuck on the single home button which somewhat guarantees they're going to have some level of bezel. Using screen real estate for a single button would be a bit wasteful
 
+Shawn Latham Luckily Google isn't staffed by fools.  But yes, that's a fundamental problem with first-to-file... some major tech firm with enough lawyers can file for something before someone else actually invents it or gets around to finishing filing it (and the filing can be held up on technicalities if your lawyers and lobbyists aren't good enough).
 
+Shawn Latham Although... as a point of fact... you do in fact have up to a year to file after inventing if no one else has filed first.  Especially if it's been made public knowledge.
 
There's still one concern I have about a bezel-less design: cases. If a case can't come over the edge of the screen and over a bezel, the device would lose a lot of protection. If you were to drop a bezel-less phone face down, what kind of case could protect it? Or even if the phone lands on its side and tumbles and eventually skids on the ground face down, could a case offer any protection?
 
+John Taylor The phone in question still has an edge... but not a bezel.  The case can come up to the point of the edge and form a "lip" that protects the devices from a fall.  Besides, soon we'll be on Gorilla Glass 3.
 
Fair enough. It's an intriguing concept.
 
+Patrick Sharpe I don't wish that on them.  Apple has every right to compete.  They don't have a right to shut everyone else out, and since that appears to be their M.O., it might be be best... but it would set bad precedent.
 
+Patrick Sharpe that's what happens when you don't make friends. My vision for how a bezel less phone would work is a phone where the touch area is smaller than the display area. Palm detection works by determining that you are touching the device with something larger than a finger. If you are touching the bezel area with something smaller than a finger then it must be your hand and it should be ignored.
 
+Eli Fennell I agree with what you're saying when companies legitimately want to compete. When you go for everyone's throats in an industry that you're a baby in all bets are off and if they go down it's because they orchestrated it through their own aggression. Apple isn't trying to compete they're trying to shut the competition down and our courts are allowing them to do it. It may set a bad precedent but it would also set an example.
 
Now we'll be seeing more research into light-receptive screen technologies so the screen itself becomes a front-facing camera in the post-bezel world. 
 
+Thomas Morffew Btw, not having a front facing camera doesn't make hangouts impossible. You can use a mirror.
 
This makes so much sense I wonder why it hasn't been attempted before. If an area of the screen can always remain non-responsive to touch, then it becomes a bezel --regardless of the fact it's displaying something or not. The is truly genius. If they can have the front camera in the middle of the device behind the screen = PROFIT.
 
Wouldn't it be really fantastic if Motorola somehow has been able to put a front facing camera that disappears behind the screen when in full screen mode? 

Quick Google, go patent this now!
 
Hopefully it's easy to manufacture or will not involve major retooling to create and assemble.
 
+Alan Den True... but the disappearing bezel will migrate to stock Android before long, I suspect.
 
Cut out the shitty middlemen, Google! Get into the hardware biz and show the world how it's done!
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