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On June 12, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals their ongoing work to advance iPad Smart Cover features. In this current invention, Apple describes their Smart Cover being able to present live illuminated alerts and messages to users on the face and/or inside flaps of the Smart Cover using varying colored LED lights.


Apple's Patent Background


Recent advances in portable computing include the introduction of hand held electronic devices and computing platforms known generically as tablet devices. These devices can be used for any number of tasks including word processing, social media networking, video conferencing, and gaming. These tablet devices also generally include a large screen that can be susceptible to damage. Consequently many users choose to cover the display of tablet devices with some form of screen protector. Because the screen protector tends to mask information displayed on the screen it becomes difficult to present visual alerts or updates to a user on the status of any number of tasks or events without removing the screen protector. A user must generally wait until the protective cover is remove to receive any updates on events that have transpired since the device was last used.


Therefore, what is desired is a way to alert a user of an event or change in status associated with the tablet device while the screen protector is covering the tablet screen.


Apple Invents iPad Cover with Illuminated Panels


Apple's patent application generally relates to a possible future version of an iPad Smart Cover that will get smarter by displaying visual status information or indicators on its face.


The iPad Smart Cover includes at least the following: (1) a flexible flap having a size and shape in accordance with the display of the host device, the flexible flap having both a first and second surface; (2) a number of illumination elements disposed across the flap in a first pattern; and (3) a connector configured to receive electrical power from an electrical distribution system of the host device and a control signal from a processor of the host device. The received control signal directs selected ones of the illumination elements to coordinate with each other to provide an illumination state.


The invention covers a method which provides a visual notification to an iPad user while the display of the iPad is covered by a Smart Cover. The method includes at least the following steps: (1) receiving a control signal at the smart cover from a processor disposed within the iPad through a communication channel between the tablet device and the accessory device, the smart cover having a flexible flap with a size and shape in accordance with the display of the iPad; and (2) providing the visual notification corresponding to an operating state of the tablet device by directing selected ones of a number of illumination elements disposed across the flexible flap to coordinate with each other to provide an illumination state in accordance with the received control signal.


Various Electroluminescent Panel Options


In Apple's patent FIG. 2A illustrated below we're able to see a top perspective view of a Smart Cover having a number of electroluminescent (EL) panels arranged across it. In some embodiments the EL panels can be built from for example active matrix electroluminescence (AMEL) technology allowing for low power usage, and relatively lightweight.


Alternatively, thin film electroluminescent (TFEL) display panels can also be used. Apple's iPad can be configured to supply both power and control signals to this future Smart Cover. In one embodiment the iPad's Smart Cover will be able to display any of a number of different colors.


In some embodiments illumination of a particular number or configuration of EL panels can be used to alert a user of the iPad's status of a certain event or application. For example, EL panels 202-214 can be configured to each light up red when the iPad's processor detects an event with a high enough priority.



In some embodiments EL panels 202-214 can be disposed on the surface of the Smart Cover while in other embodiments EL panels 202-214 can be disposed within the Smart Cover. In such a case the Smart Cover can have a translucent portion overlaying the EL panels or in other embodiments the EL panels can shine through a thin layer of fabric or plastic, giving the accessory device more of a soft glowing look.


In some embodiments a brief animation can be configured across EL panels 202-214. For example, EL panel 202 can be illuminated first followed by EL panel 206 then followed sequentially by EL panels 210 and 214. In some cases the EL panels can be configured to turn on and off.


In Apple's patent FIG. 2B shown below we're able to see the Smart Cover in a traditional position for a comfortable typing and reading position. In this embodiment the Smart Cover's segment 222 has EL panels 224-232 arranged across it. In the depicted embodiment EL panels 224-232 can be visible from both inner and outer surfaces of the Smart Cover.



In Apple's patent FIG. 3A below we're able to see a top perspective view of the iPad's Smart Cover having a number of light emitting diodes (LED) arranged across it. The Smart Cover can have a number of segments 302-308. Each LED can be either a single color LED or can be configured as an RGB LED, the RGB LEDs allowing almost any color to be displayed by each of the LEDs. By illuminating select LEDs messages can be displayed across an outer surface of the Smart Cover telling a user the exact nature of the alert or status update.


In addition to displaying messages, the LEDs can be illuminated in a manner that forms human readable symbols, such as for example an envelope image signifying receipt of an email, or even a thundercloud signifying approach of an imminent storm.



Apple notes that their patent FIG. 4 shows us a top perspective view of the Smart Cover having a segment (where you see the shapes running vertical) with at least one region of transparency which can be at least partially transparent, allowing the iPad's underlying display to shine messages or alerts through the iPad's Smart Cover.



In Apple's patent FIG. 5 we're able to see the Smart Cover having a combination of different types of lighting elements. In this particular embodiment instead of EL panel blocks as were depicted in FIGS. 2A and 2B specific phrases can be spelled out. For example lighting element #502 can be illuminated when an email is received. Lighting element #504 can be illuminated when an application related event has been detected and lighting element #506 can be illuminated when a calendar notification is received. While only 3 words formed from EL panels are depicted it should be noted that any number of words can be disposed on the Smart Cover to provide a wide variety of detailed information to a user.


Apple further notes that the use of illumination elements #516 as shown in the patent figure above can be useful for drawing a user's attention to the transparent window #510 when information is being displayed through it. In this way a user is more likely to be alerted to the displayed notification. The color of illuminated illumination elements can also be indicative of an urgency of the displayed message. In this way a user can ignore notifications of lower priority when that user is busy working on a higher priority task.


Patent Credits


Apple credits Jared Sartee and Justin Wodrich as the inventors of patent application 20140159867 which was originally filed in Q4 2012. Apple has filed for at least four other Smart Cover patent applications since 2012 as noted below:


One: Apple Invents Mind Boggling Next Generation Smart Cover with Multi-Touch Flexible Display, Solar Panels & Built-in Keyboard


Two: Apple Invents iPad Smart Cover with Built-In Inductive Charging


Three: Apple Invents a Few More Features for the iPad Smart Cover


Four: Apple Reveals a New iPad Smart Cover that Includes a Unique Multi-Touch Gesture Keyboard


Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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