As things stand, empty voids at the top and bottom of an iPhone or iPad display come as standard with every widescreen video you might care to watch -- a problem that almost persists with the iPhone 5, since that phone's elongated panel is still a few pixels off 16:9. However, judging from paperwork recently filed with the USPTO, which mentions both mobile and TV displays, Cupertino thinks it has a general workaround: using a Photoshop-style technique to copy colors from each frame of video and use them to sympathetically fill in the letterbox bars, mimicking the appearance of full-screen footage.
The latest application -- filed in January of this year -- actually builds on an earlier one that Apple first submitted in 2006, when the original iPhone was in development. Since then, various other companies have had success with similar display-extending ideas, such as Ambilight on Philips TVs and the illuminated strip on an Xperia U smartphone, but nothing exactly like this smart-fill concept has so far taken off. Ultimately, the question is whether messing with the borders of a video clip in this manner would look better or just plain awkward. As yet, thorough testing in our mind's eye remains inconclusive, but it's almost easier to imagine this curing letterboxed apps (of which we'll soon see plenty on iOS) rather than video.