Apple Patent Reveals Breakthrough Quantum Tunneling Touch-Sensitive Materials for iPhone, Smart Cases & More
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new breakthrough material described as deformable touch-sensitive quantum tunneling material. It could be used in a smart iPhone case allowing for touch zones on the back of the case to control your iPhone. More importantly, it could be used as a material for making the iPhone itself. The use of this material would virtually eliminate bulky physical buttons forever making the iPhone near waterproof perfect and slick to the touch. The material could extend to a new smart Apple Watch band. Smart Apple Watch Bands have been on Apple's mind for some time now as we've covered a number of interesting patent ideas like smart links, chameleonic bands with 3D touch and cooling and, easy recharging with a MacBook. Yet the use of quantum tunneling material in a band would allow for touch controls without seeing any buttons.
This could also apply to accessories like future EarPods to eliminate the bulky remote and much more. This breakthrough material will eventually provide Jony Ive's industrial design team with new ways to streamline designs and finally eliminate physical buttons of any kind while allowing device designs to be even thinner.
There's been more exciting patents revealed today than I've seen in some time. Seeing a new wave of Apple innovations is exactly what the doctor ordered to fire up fans. While it may take some time for this to come to market, the promise of cool next generation designs is guaranteed.
Overview of Apple's Invention
Technically speaking Apple's patent covers a smart iPhone case wherein the body comprises a user input region formed from a deformable material having an electrical resistance that decreases in response to a touch force on the deformable material.
The body further comprises an electrode pair in contact with the deformable material and configured to be operatively coupled to a sensing circuit configured to detect a change to the electrical resistance of the deformable material due to the touch force. The body further comprises a connector configured to operatively couple the electrode pair to the electronic device.
The back surface of the smart case comprises a user input region formed from a quantum tunneling material, where the sensing circuit is configured to detect a change in an electrical property of the quantum tunneling material in response to a deformation resulting from a touch force of a user input.
The invention also covers a Smart Apple Watch band that incorporates an input region formed from a touch-sensitive material. The touch-sensitive material is operatively coupled to the processing unit, and the processing unit detects a deformation of the input region based on a change in an electrical characteristic of the touch-sensitive material.
Smart iPhone Case
An input device for an electronic device comprises a first layer comprising a first touch-sensitive material, and a second layer comprising a second touch-sensitive material disposed below the first layer. An electrical resistance of the first and second layers changes differently in response to application of a force to the first layer.
Apple's patent FIG. 1A noted above shows an isometric view of an iPhone and a new smart case; FIG. 2A shows the backside of the case that includes touch-sensitive materials and touch zones.
In Apple's patent FIG. 3 noted above we're able to see where the battery for the smart case would be located along with battery charge indicator lights and an input region.
In patent FIG. 4 below we're able to see another perspective of the backside of the smart case that has several touch input areas around the periphery.
Apple notes that the input region #403 noted in patent FIG. 4 above, may detect gestures and/or multi-touch events (e.g., swipes, pinches, multi-finger touch events, and the like). Gestures and/or multi-touch events may cause the iPhone to perform any appropriate function, such as scrolling, user interface navigation, or the like.
Another Smart Apple Watch Band Concept
Apple's patent FIG. 5 below shows us an example Apple Watch and smart band that includes touch-sensitive materials FIG. 6A shows an exploded isometric view of a portion of an Apple Watch with touch-sensitive materials in the band; FIG 11 is a flow chart/overview of the system.
Apple notes that Apple Watch #500 may take any appropriate action upon detection of a touch event at one of the input regions #506 and #508 in the new smart band. For example, a touch event at one of the input regions may cause the Apple Watch to enter or emerge from a "sleep" mode, display the time, display messaging information (e.g., recent emails, text messages, telephone calls, or the like), scroll through or among elements of a graphical user-interface, control media playback, answer or terminate a telephone call, or any other appropriate function.
As another example, a swipe gesture on the band may cause the volume of media being controlled by the watch to increase or decrease. As yet another example, a swipe gesture may cause the watch 500 to skip between media files in a media queue (e.g., a "skip forward" or "skip backward" function).
The Magic: Quantum Tunneling Material
The key to this invention is the use of touch-sensitive quantum tunneling material. The term "quantum tunneling" may refer to the quantum mechanical phenomenon in which a charge (e.g., a flow of electrons) passes through a medium that it generally could not pass through. For example, an electrical charge does not typically travel well through an insulating material (e.g., silicone). If conductive particles are suspended in a matrix of insulating material, however, quantum tunneling effects may allow a charge to pass between conductive particles, even though the conductive particles are separated by interstitial insulating material.
Quantum tunneling materials are a class of materials in which quantum tunneling effects cause the electrical resistance of the material to change in response to deformation of the material. For example, quantum tunneling materials may be formed from a deformable matrix material having particles of a conductive material suspended therein.
When the matrix material is in an undeformed state, a value of the electrical resistance of the quantum tunneling material may be relatively high. When the matrix material is in a deformed state, such as after a user applies direct pressure on the material with a finger, the value of the electrical resistance may drop to a lower value.
Making iPhones with Quantum Tunneling Materials
Deeper into the patent we discover that the quantum tunneling material may not be restricted to the creation of an iPhone smart case but beyond to the construction of the iPhone itself.
Apple notes that "An electronic device can sense the resistance across the quantum tunneling material (using sensing circuitry coupled to electrodes that are in contact with quantum tunneling material) and detect whether a user has pressed on the material. In this way, quantum tunneling materials (or other touch-sensitive materials) may replace or supplement conventional mechanical buttons as inputs to the electronic device.
Touch-sensitive materials, such as quantum tunneling materials, may be employed in electronic devices to provide attractive, robust input mechanisms and other force-sensitive components. For example, the back surface of a smartphone may have one or more input regions of touch-sensitive materials, allowing a user to interact with the smartphone in new and interesting ways.
Moreover, because the input regions may not require buttons, dome switches, or other mechanical components, the surface may be thinner than would be possible with traditional input devices.
Quantum tunneling materials could over time be used on MacBooks, iPads, home appliances, mice, touchpads, trackpads, remote controls and other future accessories.
EarPods with Next-Gen Controls with No Remote
And lastly, Apple points to quantum tunneling material being used on EarPods and because of the nature of this material there's no need for a bulky remote. Instead the controls would be squeezable controls on the connector cord or set in the actual EarPod to control volume of skip a tune etc.
Apple notes, for example, an input region on the right speaker branch may increase volume, while an input region on the left speaker branch may decrease volume. Where each speaker branch 734 has an input region, the input region may be the entire length of the speaker branch.
Apple's patent application 20170038793 was filed back in Q3 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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