Apple Invents Next-Gen Fabrics that could one Day be used for iDevice Housings and Beyond
On Thursday the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple relates to Apple device and accessories having fabric housings. Apple points to the "housings" possibly representing an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, iPod and beyond. In fact Apple's Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro was the first experimental device to be born from this invention.
Apple notes that a device's housing may be formed from layers of material such as fabric and polymer layers. The fabric may be formed from woven polymer yarn. The fabric may be treated with chemicals to improve stain resistance and wear resistance, may be provided with a polymer backing layer, and may receive molded plastic structures.
The fabric may be embossed to create local raised and lowered areas. Housings may be formed from tubes of fabric and fabric that has been formed by knitting, braiding, and other techniques for intertwining strands of material.
Patterned areas may be woven into the fabric, may be formed by placing coatings on selected portions of the fabric, may be formed by embroidering certain portions of the fabric, or may be formed by otherwise locally processing the fabric.
The shapes found in patent figure 14 resemble iPhone shapes shown in previous Apple patents (see one and two).
In context with the Smart Keyboard, Apple notes that "The patterned areas may form labels for keyboard keys, logos, key trim patterns, and other features for an electronic device. Patterned areas may have locally enhanced light transmission characteristics and may be backlit" – a feature that may be coming to a future generation of the Smart Keyboard.
Apple clearly spells out the scope of this invention beyond the Smart Keyboard. Apple notes that the invention covers "electronic devices with structures such as housing structures that are formed using fabric such as a tablet computer, laptop computer, a desktop computer, a display, a cellular telephone, a media player, a wristwatch device or other wearable electronic equipment and headphones."
Beyond accessories, the invention could also be applied to "electronic equipment associated with furniture or a vehicle, equipment in a building, or other suitable electronic device."
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q3 2015. One of Apple's engineers is in fact Apple's Product Design Engineer for Soft Goods and Materials. Another engineer worked at Nike on their Flyknit shoes. Apple snagged Nike's design director Ben Shaffer in 2013, the man behind Flyknit, Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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