Run a quick [search engine of your choosing] query for the phrase "Apple bezel patent," and you'll see a ton of news, dating back a number of years, related to all the possible improvements that Apple has considered regarding the black border around its iPhones and iPads.
According to the website, Patently Apple, the US Patent and Trademark Office has recently published a patent application related to force detection on the bezel of Apple's devices.
As the related figure illustrates, Apple's ambitions – at least, as part of the patent application – involve slapping four different sensors in the four corners of an iPad (for example). These would be able to detect finger-pushing at any length along the device's bezel. In other words, you wouldn't just be stuck tapping one of the four corners in order to activate a particular action; you could tap any portion of the bezel to, say, raise and lower the iPad's volume via virtual buttons.
Presumably, the force sensors on the Apple device would be able to differentiate between single or multitouch gestures and, we hope, be able to discern whether you're just gripping the device near the bezel with your fingers or actively trying to engage a virtual button.
Since this is just a patent application, there's no indication that Apple actually plans to roll this technology out in future iterations of its iPad, iPhone, or who-knows-what-else.
Additionally, it's unclear just how Apple's patented technology would work with its more recent design update to its bezels. If you've taken a gander at an iPhone 5S or 5C lately, or an iPad Air, you'll note that there really isn't all that much bezel to speak of. The virtual buttons we previously mentioned would be more the size of a scrollbar's "thumb," if that.
If anything, we wonder if this wouldn't be a way for Apple to eliminate bezels entirely. If force-sensitive sensors could better discern between how one grips an iDevice versus how one actively manipulates it, what's to stop Apple from slapping these sensors under the display itself and extending the total viewing area to cover the entirety of an iPad or iPhone?
Image: Flickr (nettsu)