Apple takes to the stage each year to unveil a new iPhone. Representatives talk about their designs, features, and key things for any buyer to consider, and in many cases, they'll call the improvements "revolutionary." The fact is, however, that now a truly "revolutionary" change in iPhone design may be in the works.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently published new patent claims Apple filed for an iPhone featuring a wraparound screen design. The drawings depict a device that looks like a thin football and a screen that wraps around a center component where all of the internal parts live.

In the filing, Apple said that the screen is a "continuous loop" that's bolstered by software that can identify how a person is looking at it and respond accordingly. In other words, regardless of how you're holding the handset, software will dynamically adjust to ensure you're always seeing what you want to see on the unique screen.

Of course, like other major tech companies, Apple files for patents all the time. And there's a chance that, like many Apple inventions, this one will never find its way to store shelves.

But there's also a very real chance that it will.

Increasingly, big tech companies are looking to bendable, foldable, and malleable screens to improve their device designs. Samsung has most notably done that with its Galaxy Fold foldable phone, but other companies are also using curved screen designs in smartwatches and phones.

Apple has stayed tight-lipped on any possible plans for a foldable phone and hasn't commented on the Galaxy Fold. But the company is always keenly aware of the future. And it has long allowed its competitors to showcase technologies before it delivers a version that is, for Apple fans especially, superior.

It's with that context that we should judge Apple's recent patent filing. And it's also why, if Apple moves forward on it, it could dramatically change the industry.

Apple delivering a wraparound iPhone would require software developers to rethink their apps in very big ways. They'd need to know how their programs would interact with users as they fumble with the screen. And perhaps most importantly, Apple's possible move would allow those developers to think outside the box and develop new apps that would deliver completely different software experiences than we get today.

Apple also has a tendency to disrupt hardware with its design choices. Sure, we've seen foldable and bendable screens, but the wraparound display Apple is floating in the patent is unique. And if it were to become the norm, or at least a desirable option among consumers, it's reasonable to believe other hardware makers could follow with similar designs.

I'll freely admit that a patent is by no means a finished product. But we should also acknowledge that what Apple likes to do more than anything is try to build something better that other companies have proven. A wraparound display and new iPhone user experience is something that could get the company thinking very differently.

So, be on the lookout for a big iPhone change in the coming years. If and when that happens, expect consumers to come knocking--and developers and hardware makers to follow Apple's lead.

Published on: Nov 6, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.