According to the patent, Apple talks about how there is a continuous need to improve on a device’s appearance, and that buttons or input devices in general can interrupt the “continuity of the device housing”. The patent also talks about how having mechanical buttons could result in wear and tear down time and be ruined by dirt or moisture seeping into the openings.
As a result, the patent suggests that maybe “invisible” buttons could be the answer. According to Apple, one way to approach this would be “deflection based capacitive sensing”. The company says, “Deflection of a metal frame of the input device causes a change in capacitance that is used to control a function of an electrical device. The input device appears invisible because it is made of the same material as the housing it is contained in. Invisible backlit holes may make the input selectively visible or invisible to the user.”
We have to say that the idea of a perfectly flat and seamless iPhone certainly sounds appealing. Apple does not mention the iPhone specifically so for all we know, it could be applied to other Apple products. It’s definitely an intriguing patent, but don’t hold your breath at seeing it become a reality anytime soon.