An Apple Smart Fabric patent places emphasis on a future Apple Watch band using touch sensitive circuitry to control audio & more
Patently Apple began covering Apple's smart fabric inventions in 2017. With today's patent filing, Apple has a minimum of 45 patents on record covering smart fabric for the iPad's smart keyboard folio and future products from AirPods Max to smart AR/VR gloves, smart clothing, smart footwear and more. Apple also has a few on a future Apple Watch band (01 and 02). In fact, last week Apple's patent titled "Fabric Sensing Device" was published by the US Patent & Trademark Office that put emphasis on smart fabric used in a future Apple Watch Band.
In general, it may be advantageous to implement touch-sensitive functionality using a broad range of materials that can be integrated into a number of flexible and versatile form factors. In some implementations, a touch-sensitive textile may be incorporated into a consumer electronic product, including for example, a wearable electronic device.
For example, the touch-sensitive textile may be incorporated into a portion of the band or lanyard that is used to secure the device to the body of a user. A touch-sensitive textile may also be incorporated into an article of clothing such as a shirt, jacket, glove, or other textile-based garment.
For example, a touch-sensitive textile may be incorporated into a sleeve, pocket, or other portion of a garment that is readily accessible to the use. In some embodiments, a touch-sensitive textile may be incorporated into an accessory, including, for example, a purse, wallet, handbag, backpack, and or other accessory having including textile element. A touch-sensitive textile may also be incorporated into an item that is not worn, including, for example, a cloth, rug, tapestry, upholstery, or other fabric-based article or component.
The touch-sensitive textile may be incorporated or integrated with other electronic components or electronic circuitry to form a touch-sensitive textile device. In some implementations, a touch-sensitive textile device may be configured to recognize a touch gesture or gestures on a surface of the textile.
The touch gesture(s) may include a sweep or movement of the user's finger across the surface of the textile that may be interpreted as a command or other user input.
In some implementations, the touch-sensitive textile device may be configured to detect and measure the force of a touch on the textile, which may be used to interpret additional user inputs and/or commands.
The touch-sensitive textile device may also be incorporated into or configured to interface with an electronic device to provide user input to programs or instructions being executed on the electronic device.
In some embodiments, the touch-sensitive textile may include a capacitive touch sensor that is configured to detect and estimate a location of a touch or near touch on the surface of the textile. In some implementations, the touch-sensitive textile includes two sets of conductive threads that are oriented transverse to each other within a textile material. The conductive threads may be operatively coupled to a sensing circuit that is configured to produce and monitor an electrical charge on each of the conductive threads in the touch-sensitive textile.
When an object, such as the user's finger, comes close to the conductive threads, the electrical charge may be dissipated or discharged, which may be detected by the sensing circuit. By determining which conductive threads have been discharged, the sensing circuit (or other processing unit) may be used to estimate the location of the touch on the textile material.
In some embodiments, the touch-sensitive textile may include a resistive touch sensor that is configured to text and estimate the location of a touch on the surface of the textile. In some implementations the touch-sensitive textile includes two sets of conductive threads that are interwoven within the textile, each set generally oriented transverse to the other.
A touch, such as a finger, may contact the surface a thread from each set of conductive threads, which may reduce or change the resistance or impedance between the two threads. The reduced resistance or impedance caused by the touch may be detected by a sensing circuit that is configured to monitor and detect resistance and/or impedance between pairs of conductive threads. Additionally, by determining which threads are associated with the change in resistance or impedance, the sensing circuit (or other processing unit) may be used to estimate the location of the touch on the surface of the textile material.
Apple's patent FIGS. 3A-B below depict an example resistive touch-sensitive textile device.
In the big picture, smart fabric could be used for many devices and items as laid out in the body of the patent to include a sleeve, pocket, or other portion of a garment, backpack and so forth. More immediately, Apple has pointed to a smart fabric "wrist band" for the Apple Watch a priority in their patent claims that may give us a heads-up.
Apple's patent claims, that define and protect a patent in court, we find that Apple places emphasis on the smart fabric/textile being used to make an Apple Watch band as follows:
Patent Claim #11: "The system defined in claim 1 wherein the wearable fabric item comprises a wrist band and wherein the touch sensor comprises a capacitive touch sensor configured to detect multiple touches."
Patent Claim #12: "A system, comprising: an electronic device configured to provide audio output; a wearable fabric band having threads that form a capacitive touch sensor, wherein the capacitive touch sensor is configured to receive touch input; and circuitry configured to control the audio output in response to the touch input."
Patent Claim #16: "A system, comprising: a mobile telephone; a fabric wrist band configured to wirelessly communicate with the electronic device, wherein the fabric wrist band comprises: nonconductive threads; and conductive threads woven with the nonconductive threads and configured to form a touch sensor on the fabric wrist band; and circuitry configured to control an operation of the mobile telephone based on touch input to the touch sensor."
Apple's patent also points to touch commands on the Apple Watch band being able to control audio on AirPods including placing them in silent and or do-not-disturb mode and more.
For more details, review Apple's patent application number 20220107695.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.