The iPhone could get a touchscreen panel that runs down the edge of the device — the future of the action button looks glassy

An iPhone 15 Pro Max against an abstract multi-colored retro background.
(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future / Apple)

If you love the Action button’s functionality but want to control even more options from a single click, you may just be in luck. 

A recent patent suggests future iPhones could get touchscreen panels on the side that can be mapped to certain functions like a calendar, music, or texts. Some of the patent images show off screens with volume buttons on them, suggesting the removal of physical volume buttons. In addition, a camera activation display could mean replacing the hotly anticipated Camera button expected to launch with the iPhone 16 this year, widely expected to become the best iPhone.  

Interestingly, the patent seems to suggest there could be unique animations for listening to music. With this, a song title is displayed where the previous and next one can be swiped up and down to access. It’s a good way of knowing what is next in your queue at a quick glance. These digital buttons could potentially be reprogrammable, like the Action button, where you can open up apps in just a few seconds. 

It is unclear how this feature would work when in a pocket or while the iPhone is locked as one might accidentally hit buttons. If done right, this could mean removing more physical buttons for digital programmable buttons. 

A radically different future

Apple patent

(Image credit: Apple)

It's important to note that this is just a patent right now. It’s a sign of some investment from Apple as engineers and designers have spent time writing the patent up but it’s currently only an idea. Apple will create and renew thousands of patents that will never be implemented in some form. Having said that, this is an intriguing idea and fits in line with Apple’s current desire to swap out buttons and add more functionality to its devices. 

In the last few years, we received the Action button on the side for opening apps, Dynamic Island on the top for checking current notifications, and the potential of the new Camera button could make opening the camera app super quick in the future. This patent, though quite a big leap, doesn’t seem too out of character with what current iPhones are doing. 

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James Bentley

James is a staff writer and general Jack of all trades at iMore. With news, features, reviews, and guides under his belt, he has always liked Apple for its unique branding and distinctive style. Originally buying a Macbook for music and video production, he has since gone on to join the Apple ecosystem with as many devices as he can fit on his person. 

With a degree in Law and Media and being a little too young to move onto the next step of his law career, James started writing from his bedroom about games, movies, tech, and anything else he could think of. Within months, this turned into a fully-fledged career as a freelance journalist. Before joining iMore, he was a staff writer at Gfinity and saw himself published at sites like TechRadar, NME, and Eurogamer. 

As his extensive portfolio implies, James was predominantly a games journalist before joining iMore and brings with him a unique perspective on Apple itself. When not working, he is trying to catch up with the movies and albums of the year, as well as finally finishing the Yakuza series. If you like Midwest emo music or pretentious indie games that will make you cry, he’ll talk your ear off.