Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published 359 patent applications from Apple. One of the more interesting inventions revealed today covers their work relating to fabric displays that could be used in a future smart Apple Watch band as noted in our cover graphic. The fabric could be made of magnetic and/or conducting fibers and incorporate light pipe fibers that act as light guides to visually display indications or messages to a user right on their Apple Watch band and beyond.
Apple's Patent Background
Weaving is a method of fabric production in which individual threads or yarns are woven into a fabric or cloth material. Weaving has been an art form known for millennia. In modern times, weaving machines have taken the place of more traditional hand woven fabrics. Fibers that may be intertwined include polymer, metal, insulator--coated metal fibers, glass fibers or other suitable fibers.
Light tubes or light pipes are optical waveguides used for transporting or distributing natural or artificial light for the purpose of illumination. Light pipes may be divided into two broad categories: hollow structures that contain the light with a reflective lining; and transparent solids that contain the light by total internal reflection such as an optical fiber. Some optical fibers transport as much light as possible within the core while optical fibers intended for light distribution are designed to let part of the light leak out through the walls of the fibers. Molded plastic light pipes or tubes are commonly used in the electronics industry to direct illumination from LED's on a circuit board to indicator symbols or buttons on the electronic device.
Modern portable electronic devices may be carried by a user or they may be removably attached to the person of a user by means of straps or other tethers which may be decorative tethers. Apple Watch bands would be a prime example of a decorative tether. While tethers prevent the user from dropping or losing a device, they traditionally don't serve any useful purpose beyond aesthetics.
Apple's Invention: Woven Displays
Apple's invention relates to the field of woven fabric displays. More particularly, the embodiments relate to woven bands which include fibers having varying optical properties. In still greater particularity, the embodiments include light pipe fibers woven into the fabric as light guides to visually display indications or messages to a user of a portable electronic device.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 below shows woven fabric with certain light pipe fibers energized to form a display; FIG. 5 shows a side view of the woven fabric.
Light Pipe Fibers
The disclosed embodiments incorporate light pipe fibers into woven fabric, such as a tether or wrist band, used with an electronic device. The light pipes receive light from LED's in the electronic device at the point of connection of the fabric to the electronic device such that the light pipes can function as an electronic display on the band. Apple's patent FIG. 6 below shows a light transmissive portion and an opaque portion on a light transmissive fiber.
Light pipe fibers such as clear nylon fibers may be interwoven into a flexible material to create a pliable display which may be worn by the user and could provide certain information such as keeping time without turning on the electronic device.
The disclosed embodiments may be used with various portable electronic devices including electronic wrist watches, smartphones, laptop computers and computer tablets.
Information could also be provided on the material such as an indication of a message waiting or other information about the condition of the electronic device associated with the band or tether.
The band could indicate by a change in color whether the clasp or other implement attaching the band to the person of the user is closed or otherwise secured.
The band could indicate if the band ends are properly aligned to the person of the user. If the band is worn by different users, the display on the band could indicate by visual means the size of the band such that a particular user could easily know which portion of the clasp or other securing device to engage to comfortably secure the electronic device to his or her person.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 is a perspective view showing woven fabric as an Apple Watch band engaging the body of the watch; FIGS. 8 & 9 show the attachment band of FIG. 7 worn on the wrist of a user.
Apple's patent FIG. 10 is a perspective view of an iPhone tethered to a user and including woven fabric display on the tether that could also be a future iPod Loop; FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a portable laptop computer with fiber display portion #48.
Apple notes that the fibers provided by sources may be magnetic fibers, conducting fibers, insulating fibers, or fibers with other material properties. They also note that three-dimensional (3D) knitting equipment or other weaving tools can be used to form a fiber material layer 21 that has the desired light transmitting properties depending upon the application.
Apple patent application 20150342307 was originally filed in Q2 2014. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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