In the ongoing quest to eliminate bezels on smartphones in favor of full-front displays, smartphone makers have gotten creative with their designs. Apple, for example, opted for a bigger version of the notch that was first introduced by Andy Rubin's Essential Phone, while others are trending towards punch-hole designs—circular cutouts to house the front-facing camera(s). The latter includes Samsung, though it may have something else up its sleeve, and it involves the company's S-Pen accessory.
A newly published patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) describes placing a camera sensor into a "pen device," which basically means Samsung is toying with the idea of putting a camera inside the S Pen.
"The electric pen device includes an optical system including a lens and an image sensor configured to convert an image signal of light that has passed through the optical system to an electrical signal. The electric pen device includes a control board configured to interact with an electronic device and a communication module configured to communicate by wire or wirelessly with the electronic device, so that an image or a picture taken by a camera is confirmed and an optical zoom is controlled from the external electronic device," the patent explains.
It is an interesting idea, albeit with limited utility—this would only apply to the Galaxy Note series, which comes with an S Pen. Nevertheless, the Galaxy Note line is popular, and this seems like an natural evolution of the S Pen, which keeps getting better with each new iteration. Just look at the Galaxy Note 9. Samsung upgraded the S Pen with Bluetooth connectivity for its latest Note device, and pitches using the S Pen as a remote camera shutter.
Source: USPTO via Samsung
Putting a camera inside the S Pen would achieve two goals—it would allow Samsung to do away with a front-facing camera on the phone itself, negating the need for a bezel or notch or punch-hole or whatever, and it could opt for an optical zoom, which is superior to zooming digitally.
That latter point shouldn't be overlooked. Most phones shy away from optical zooming because the hardware required adds to the thickness. Putting the camera inside the S Pen potentially gives Samsung an end-around to that problem.
It's not clear if Samsung actually plans to go in this direction. Samsung filed for the patent back in February 2017, and now two years later, it's finally been granted. If Samsung does implement it, though, it could extend beyond the Note series and help the company market its S Pen as an accessory for laptops and desktops as well.