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Resolving The Bezel


The moment between, beyond the present, yet anticipating the aft. Obsessed with the next, the moments beyond, a longing for.. Eschew the digital extensions whose representations are counterfeit to what is seen/heard/smelt/felt as the liminal moments present now, next and indefinite. To capture these momentary flourishes, where time pauses to consider, to ponder, Along The Way.

The inception of the first iPhone brought the capacitive touch screen to the mainstream. Not long after, Apple did it again and revolutionised the tablet market with the original iPad, both of which have remained essentially the same with derivative upgrades. The screen sizes have increased (and decreased - iPad Mini), the resolution and subsequent pixel densities have significantly increased, devices are thinner, more powerful and last longer on a single charge. But they are still essentially large glass covered screens with a bezel around it and a button or two. 

Perhaps the most significant derivative change that has occurred is the dramatic increase in screen size. At first devices that increased their screen size might have simply enlarged the entire device, as was done to create the iPad. This is a logical step that makes sense when increasing a phones display from 3 inches to 4 inches. But what happens when you want a screen size of 5 inches or more? You could simply make the phone bigger, obviously. But what if you still want the phone to fit on your normal sized pocket? Or crucially, what if you want the phone to actually it in your hand? So you can actually use it?

The traditional notion of the bezel I find best defined by the late Steve Jobs who when introducing the first iPad sat down on a chair holding an iPad by the finger sized bezel somewhat awkwardly poking and prodding his way around the revolutionary at the time, though now long in the tooth IOS and its various apps. A large screen tablet device is not something designed to fit into your back pocket. Your daily smartphone however, much of its success is pinned to its always with you portability. A large screen with a similarly large bezel may be ideal for isolated usability, but it is an absolute failure in terms of portability. This is a triangle choice between usability, pocket-ability and screen size - The current solutions allow you to pick two. 

With the advancement of screen technology, device makers have sought to remedy the portability concerns of large screen smartphones by making the bezels of these devices as small as possible. The bezel less smartphone appears to be the holy grail of smartphone design that would seem to provide an absolute focus on content that is admittedly mesmerizing. The user gets the large screen for watching high definition video content, the device fits in their pocket, but usability takes a significant hit. Because the bezel is now so thin, your fingers inevitably touch the screen and cause all sorts of unwanted gestures and taps, a backward step for consumers.

The Apple solution pre iPhone 6 and 6 Plus was to simply ignore the large screen craving of many ceding market share primarily to Samsung and their range of phablet (phone and tablet) devices. In this way users get great smartphone devices, which fits in your pocket and are easy to use, but does not have the screen size you had hoped for. Not necessarily a backward step for consumers but not a forward step either - which may as well be a step backwards. 

Usability, pocket-ability and screen size, how can we have our cake and eat it to? The answer it seems is actually very simply, it will require some software interface adaption, but can be achieved very easily today, with today's current hardware technology. Sure give the customer a large high-resolution screen for high definition content. Make the device as thin, light and bezel-less as possible to you forget it is in your pocket, but also contract the capacitive sensitivity so it is slightly smaller than the actual size of the screen. This small concession combined with a thin bezel can provide enough space for you to actually hold the device securely in your hand without the unintended swipes jabs and prods. User interface elements may need to be re-jigged to accommodate, but the user gets pocket-ability, 4K Youtube without the annoying bezel and a phone you can actually hold. 

From a user Interface design perspective, the old Windows phone 7 Series software is perhaps the most usable and fluid interface, especially suited to modern phablets, but thats a story for next time.