The ideal smartphone is all screen with no buttons or borders -- here's how close it is to becoming a reality

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Smartphone makers have had us drooling for years over the idea of a phone that’s all screen, with no buttons or borders to interrupt the pure design. But try as they might, the concept hasn’t exactly come to fruition. The most popular devices have come with extremely thin bezels, or, like the iPhone X, feature thin bezels with a notch towards the top of the phone to house the phone’s camera and all its front-facing sensors.

Still, we’ve been seeing more patents and murmurings of an all-screen phone. Here are some details on what may or may not be in the smartphone pipeline:

Several details have surfaced in recent days suggesting that smartphone designs could shift in many different directions.

SlashleaksVivo edge less smartphone concept

An image shared by Slashleaks last week showcased a prototype of a truly bezel-less smartphone by the Chinese manufacturer, Vivo. The device also has no visible home button and leads us to assume that it is similar to the Vivo X20 Plus, which the manufacturer announced in January as the first mobile device with an in-display fingerprint sensor.

Vivo isn’t the only manufacturer considering the truly edge-less design.

Let’s Go DigitalSamsung edge less smartphone patent

Samsung recently registered a patent for a smartphone with a “full screen-filling display.” Images included with the patent suggest there could be a component at the top of the display, which LetsGoDigital refers to as a top notch. However, it could also be a cut out for a front speaker. There is no indication from the images that the screen isn’t continuous.

It might take a while for all-screen phones to become mainstream.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business InsiderZTE Axon M, foldable, two-display smartphone

Apple’s iPhone line looks like it will feature the TrueDepth camera system (a.k.a. “the notch”) for the foreseeable future, and Google is also rumoured to be working on a slew of smartphones with top notches.

A new report from Bloomberg suggests Google’s upcoming Android P software update may include optimization for smartphone designs with notches at the top of the phone, like the iPhone X. The tech giant seems to be preparing its operating system for a host of more modern smartphone designs, not only anticipating Android devices with top notches but also devices with flexible displays and multiple screens.

Smartphone manufacturers experimented heavily with different device form factors in 2017.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business InsiderEssential Phone

Apple may have popularised the top notch with the iPhone X, but it was the Essential Phone – the brainchild of Android co-founder Andy Rubin – that first brought the idea to public attention. In an effort to maximise the device’s display, the Essential Phone features a top-notch to house its front-facing camera.

However, the smartphone released with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, which is not optimised for the top-notch design. This left several applications unable to expand around the notch and ultimately truncated the overall width of the usable screen, the opposite intent of a full-screen design. The current Android 8.0 Oreo software, which released after the Essential Phone hit the market, was similarly not optimised for unique smartphone designs.

The iPhone X has a similar issue in that not all apps are optimised to wrap around its top notch. Like Google, this may be a pain point that Apple addresses in a future software update.

Once again, Samsung is also in the mix with patents registered, showing its version of a smartphone with a notch at the top of the display.

Let’s Go DigitalSamsung top-notch design patent

The design suggests Samsung would consider a design closer to the Android-run Essential Phone than the iPhone X.

There is no guarantee that Samsung would ever release a device with a top notch since patents are more concepts than actual devices in a manufacturer’s pipeline. They are, however, a good indication that Samsung is keeping its options open for how it may develop future devices.

There are also reports that Samsung could release a smartphone with a display that can fold in half. Such a device would likely also benefit from running Google’s upcoming Android P software.

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