On August 2, 2012, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a mind boggling patent application from Apple that reveals features that they're considering for their next generation Smart Cover. This is obviously a master patent that could play out in several stages and/or in different Smart Cover configurations depending on the user's priorities. Apple's future Smart Cover could include interactive Multi-Touch panels or a secondary display and/or other features that include the use of solar panels, inductive charging, smart pen input and believe it or not, much more.
Apple's Patent Background
Recent advances in portable computing include the introduction of tablet devices that could be used for any number of tasks including word processing, social media networking, video conferencing, and gaming. Although this type of device allows an extensive variety of tasks to be performed, the overall functionality of this device type still has room for improvement. For example, increasing the display area could lead to a significant expansion in functionality. Unfortunately, since displays already dominate a majority of one side of tablet devices, device manufacturers generally choose between making the display and therefore the device itself larger, thereby reducing the portability or making the device and display smaller with the result of a less functional device. Neither solution is desirable; therefore a way to extend the usability and functionality of a tablet device without making it any larger is desired.
Future Smart Cover to Incorporate Flexible Display
Apple has invented a next generation Smart Cover that is arranged to communicate with the iPad by way of a communication channel. This future Smart Cover will include the following: a flexible flap having a size and shape in accordance with the size of the iPad's display where at least a portion of the flexible flap is covered by a flap display configured to present visual information; and a connecting portion, the connecting portion arranged to provide at least a communication channel arranged to convey information between the iPad and this future Smart Cover where at least some of the information is presented visually on the flap display.
The Interactive Smart Cover
Today typical iPad accessories are passive in nature, the majority of which simply function to protect the screen, or perhaps support the tablet in some specific orientation. Although some devices such as Bluetooth headsets and keyboards do have limited interactive capability the majority of accessories are limited to more basic tasks. These accessories could be improved by including at least some of the following features: (1) a power source; (2) a communications protocol; (3) an input method; and (4) an independent storage medium.
Power Sources for this Future Smart Cover
For the iPad to take on a more interactive role with the iPad, it will need to have a power source to drive it. In some embodiments, a battery could be incorporated within the body of the Smart Cover. The battery could take many forms. For example, the battery could be placed in disparate locations in the Smart Cover or it could be replaceable or otherwise accessible by the user. The operating time of a built in battery can be augmented by the addition of an auxiliary power supply such as a solar panel array to the accessory. For example, a solar panel array spread across a surface of the future Smart Cover could lengthen the amount of time the cover could be operated between recharging.
A battery could also allow for the Smart Cover to continue nominal operations after it has been removed from the iPad, especially with the inclusion of a small amount of storage space. For example, a simple screen saver could be displayed with an embodiment that includes an auxiliary display. In another embodiment where the cover includes a display portion, a document could be reviewed. In yet another embodiment, the document can be updated or otherwise modified by a user with a user interface, such as a keyboard, or touch pad, where the interface is built into the cover and powered by the cover battery.
Active Communication between the Smart Cover and iPad
Active communication between Apple's future Smart Cover and iPad could be accomplished either wirelessly or through a wired data connection. For example, a wireless data connection utilizing the 5 GHz 802.11n protocol could provide sufficient data transmission bandwidth to transmit a high quality video stream along the lines of NTSC 1080p 30 fps video.
Apple's future Smart Cover could alternatively or additionally be electrically connected to the iPad using any number of established standards such as DisplayPort, mini DisplayPort, DVI, and Thunderbolt. A custom wireless or wired protocol is also certainly possible. While the wired solutions would enable simple, high speed data transfer, the wireless protocol has the advantage of allowing for communication between the two devices in a detached state.
In another embodiment power could be transferred to the future Smart Cover from the iPad itself through either a wireless or wired medium. Wireless charging methods, such as inductive charging could allow Apple's future Smart Cover to be charged by the tablet itself without the addition of a power connector.
A Customized Connector Similar to MagSafe for Data and Power
Apple's filing discusses a new customized connector associated with a future iPad that will be able to pass both data and power between the two devices. For example a connector similar to the MagSafe connector could be integrated with an auxiliary connector which passes data and or video.
Apple's patent FIG. 1A shown below illustrates connector 102 used to connect the iPad and future Smart Cover. The connector could be configured as shown in close up view 108 with a number of separate connectors, allowing the power and display transfer lines to traverse separate channels. Such a connector would eliminate the need for a wireless data transmitter in the cover and would make the electrical and data connections between the two devices quite simple. A wired data connection also removes security concerns associated with wireless communication protocols.
A Multi-Touch Based Flexible Display
Apple's patent FIG. 1B shows a perspective view of an iPad with the attached future Smart Cover having a display (114). Therefore, when the Smart Cover and iPad form cooperating system (100), the Smart Cover display could be used in conjunction with or in place of the iPad's display (116). Clearly, in order to maintain the flexibility of Smart Cover, the cover display must also be flexible. Therefore, cover display 114 can take the form of a flexible display made of a durable, flexible material such as a polyimide substrate. In this way, the cover display and cover could bend and flex together allowing for a thin, robust, and flexible design.
It should be noted that touch screen technology could also be integrated into the cover display. The integrated touch screen will allow the cover display and the iPad display to have substantially similar functionality.
Viewing Two Documents Side by Side on 7-10 Inch Displays
The addition of the cover display ameliorates the limited screen area problem and makes a number of tasks significantly easier, in some cases functioning as an extended desktop.
For example, reviewing two documents on a conventional tablet screen size of about 7-10 inches (confirming the coming 7" tablet) is difficult at best. Having two documents open at once on a screen of this size makes the text quite difficult to read. With an additional display, instead of having to switch back and forth between documents one of the documents can be moved to the cover display. In one embodiment this could be accomplished by a multi-touch gesture, essentially allowing a document to be pushed from the tablet display to the cover display.
Apple's Smart Cover will use an AMOLED Display
Apple's filing states that by using an active matrix organic light emitting diode (AMOLED) display for the Smart Cover, single pixels could be lit up, as opposed to conventional LCD technology in which the entire screen is in either an on or an off state. Consequently, an AMOLED screen could display small amounts of text at extremely conservative power levels. With this technology in combination with the orientation determining sensors only the portion of the Smart Cover display on segment 210 could be activated providing a number of useful features. For example, the small amount of power consumed when only a few pixels are active could help to conserve battery life. Once activated, the Smart Cover display could perform a number of useful functions when the cover is disposed in this orientation. In one embodiment a user's social media site status could be displayed. In another embodiment a certain number of recent words typed into a word processing application could be displayed. In yet another embodiment the display could simply display the tablet user's name, which is useful in settings such as a conference or a classroom.
Apple's patent FIG. 2B shows a perspective view of an iPad supported by a flexible cover arranged such that iPad could be placed in a convenient orientation for watching video. In those situations where video is presented on the iPad, input regions could include, for example, touch sensitive areas (214) located near the outer edges of the flexible cover. The touch sensitive areas could allow specific user input that could provide for enabling functions such as play, pause, fast forward, and rewind. Although the touch sensitive areas are not visible to a user while viewing a video, the size and location of the touch sensitive areas could allow for a user to easily learn the locations after a short familiarization period. This allows a user to control the video display without having to manipulate on screen controls on the tablet display (not shown), which could interfere with the movie watching experience.
Ambient Energy Collectors, Solar Panels, RF Antennas
Apple's patent FIG. 3A shows a top view of an iPad attached to a full extended flexible cover with cover display. A small cover display (306) as shown overlaid on the first segment (308) could exhibit all the advantages of the functionality described above in FIG. 2A, while allowing for the use of a less expensive, smaller, lower power display than one covering the entire inside of cover (304). A smaller cover display also allows the inclusion of other features into the inside surface of the flexible cover. Features such as ambient energy collectors could be included. It should be noted that ambient energy could be considered to be any form of energy to which the flexible cover is exposed. For example, ambient energy could take the form of ambient light energy (sunlight, artificial light, and so on), RF energy, and so forth.
Apple's patent FIG. 3A also shows a specific embodiment with second segment 310, third segment 312, and fourth segment 314 integrated with solar panels 316 arranged to collect useful amounts of solar energy (or more simply ambient light from artificial sources such as a light bulb). Solar panels configured in this way could supply power to the Smart Cover's display.
In another embodiment the cover display could include touch sensitive control. In this configuration the cover display could display and allow selection from a list of active program icons, enabling convenient switching between active applications. Alternatively, the cover display could display program toolbars or even a list of bookmarks for a PDF document, thereby freeing up screen area while enabling more convenient access to application functionality.
Apple's patent FIG. 3B shows a similar embodiment to the representation shown in FIG. 3A. In this figure the flexible cover display has RF energy collection antennas 318 integrated into the second segment 310, third segment 312 and fourth segment 314. RF energy collectors can be used to gather ambient RF energy from specific frequency bands broadcast by a number of nearby transmitters such as Wi-Fi antennas, cell phone towers, or even radio waves.
Although RF energy harvesting without a dedicated transmitter typically yields modest amounts of energy, the energy could be used to trickle charge a micro battery or super capacitor contained within the flexible cover. This energy could then be applied to handle low energy tasks such as querying the iPad for the presence of any notification updates, or even powering a low power sensor such as a thermometer. One advantage of this configuration over the solar panels of FIG. 3A is that the RF antennas could collect energy with flexible cover in an open or closed state. A combination of solar panels and RF Antennas could also be combined in one embodiment of the flexible cover.
A MacBook Alternative: Future Smart Cover May Integrate Flexible Keyboard
Now here's an interesting twist that very much resembles Microsoft's new Surface tablet cover that incorporates a keyboard. As shown in Apple's patent FIG. 5, a flap portion (420) could include a keyboard (502). The Keyboard could be in communication with the iPad using, for example, a wired connection. In another embodiment, the keyboard could be in wireless communication with the iPad.
The fabric keyboard will be able to provide positive tactile feedback. Having a separate keyboard attached to the iPad via this next generation Smart Cover will provide a convenient viewing angle has a number of advantages. First, this configuration gives the user an experience much closer to the one enjoyed by laptop users. Second, by allowing the user to easily view the screen and by providing a convenient surface to type on, tasks such as word processing and email become much more efficient. Third, the experience is even better in some ways than the laptop experience as most laptops do not include rear facing touch controls for video or document manipulation.
Alternate Configuration: An Added Smart Cover Flap Screen
Finally, the addition of the flap portion adds no significant weight or bulk to the iPad and makes this configuration a true laptop alternative. Even more functionality could be added to the flap portion by configuring it with a flap screen 504, positioned either above (as shown in FIG. 5) or below the keyboard 502. When configured above keyboard, the flap screen could allow for customized virtual keys to be added specific to each application, or could be used as a way to display additional application data. The flap screen could also be configured with application toolbars, or even an active application list for easily switching between active applications.
When flap screen is configured below the keyboard, it could act as a replacement for a touch pad, bringing the experience even closer to a conventional laptop configuration. With this configuration a cursor can even be implemented in applications where useful. This configuration allows for the display of a configurable keyboard or a completely customized control scheme, as might be desirable for mixing music or video compilations.
It should be noted that flap portion 420 could be configured to include any suitable type of input device. For example, in one embodiment shown in FIG. 6, the flap portion 420 could include a flap screen 602 across a majority of the surface of flap portion. Apple's patent Fig. 6 illustrates a user using the flap screen in conjunction with a Smart Pen for drawing and/or taking notes.
Outside Surface Display Possibilities
Apple's patent FIGS. 7A, 7B, and 7C show embodiments with cover displays configured on the outside surface of tablet device covers. These embodiments could allow a tablet device with a covered screen to display an alert in response to some event without the assistance of the iPad's display. In FIG. 7A the flexible cover 702 is shown with a small cover display 704 for showing notifications such as recent emails, instant messages, or upcoming calendar events. The cover display could be made with AMOLED technology.
Alternative Feature: Adding an E-Reader Paper Technology
Apple's patent FIG. 7B shows flexible cover 706 which in this particular embodiment is shown with displays spread across each of the three panels of the flexible cover. In this embodiment the displays spread across first segment 708, second segment 710, and third segment 712 could be made with electronic paper technology, similar to the display technology used by standalone E-reader devices.
In this embodiment flexible electronic paper displays are not required since they are overlaid on top of the following rigid portions of the flexible cover: segment 708; segment 710; and segment 712. These electronic paper displays require no additional power to continuously hold an image on the display; therefore this allows information to be displayed on the outside cover without the need for continuous electrical current. This allows for example the display of calendar reminder messages as shown in first segment 708, or reminder lists as shown in segment 710, or even a smart pen scribbled reminder as shown in segment 712.
By installing a color electronic paper display the cover could even have user-configurable colors. The electronic paper technology also allows the flexible cover, which may rely solely on an external power source, to continue to maintain whatever information was being displayed after the external power source is disconnected.
FIG. 7C shows yet another possible embodiment in which the electronic paper displays are used to cover all four segments 708-714 of the flexible cover with custom patterns or designs. Although a polka dotted pattern is displayed in FIG. 7C, stripes, stars, or any number of other user-created or commercially produced patterns are certainly possible.
Flex Cover as iPad Stand with Great Advantages
Apple's patent FIG. 8 shows a perspective view of tablet device 802 supported by flexible cover 804 which don't have any of the stiffeners that were present in the previous embodiments. Instead the flexible cover could be made of a material that is substantially rigid in nature but also deformable. This allows the flexible cover to be manipulated into a number of different shapes, and then for a shape to be maintained until further manipulation is desired.
Apple's patent FIG. 8 shows the flexible cover manipulated into one shape where the flexible cover is rigid enough to support the weight of the iPad where one edge of the flexible cover and one edge of the iPad are in contact with a flat surface. It is important to note that connecting portion 806 must also be rigid enough to maintain the iPad and flexible cover t a consistent relative angle with respect to each other.
Great for Businesses: Mini Presentations, Editing Spreadsheets
One way to accomplish this is to add a locking mechanism to the connecting portion 806 so that the hinge portion of the connecting portion could swing freely during normal operations, but also be locked in place when required to support the iPad in a free standing configuration as illustrated. The flexible cover could also include the cover display. The cover display 808 can include a user interface embodied by a touch sensitive input so that cover display 808 has equivalent functionality to the tablet display (not shown). This enables a number of useful applications. In one embodiment the cover display could be used as a presentation platform for a small audience. A speaker could stand behind the iPad with the ability to manipulate controls and view speaker notes on the tablet display (not shown) while the audience views a presentation (as illustrated) on cover display.
In another embodiment two users could efficiently collaborate on more business-centric applications. For example, since each user can have an independent view and set of controls, given an appropriate software implementation a single document or spreadsheet can be efficiently edited simultaneously.
In another embodiment two users could simultaneously use the tablet with one user manipulating each display. This would enable robust two player gaming applications. By having both players on one device, lag created by network latencies can be avoided. For example, real-time action games and first-person shooter games could unfairly disadvantage users playing on slow networks. With a direct connection or a close range communications link these types of latencies could be substantially eliminated.
Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q3 2011 by the inventor Fletcher Rothkopf and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
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Apple Sites Supporting our Original Report
MacSurfer, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Macnews, iPhone World Canada,eWallstreeter, Techmeme, The Fly on the Wall (financial site), Bullishcross (financial site), Apple News Feedroom, MacDailyNews, Jail Break Nation, BGR, BGRMobile, BGR Germany, Prego 117 Japan, TechBlogger, CNBlogs China, BestTechInfo, iPhoneinCanada, 36 Krypton China,HVG Hungary, iPhoneDeVAR Arabic, Huffington Post, iDownloadBlog, and more.