Google's Killing the Bezel
What It Means for the Patent Wars
Originally Published at

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 (

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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