Apple Wins Over-the-Ear Headphones Patent Covering Smart Fabrics on Ear Cups having Touch Sensor Controls
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 52 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we cover Apple's patent relating to over-the-earphones that have fabric ear cups with built-in sensors to control aspects of the headphones.
Apple's granted patent covers headphones that may be provided with sensors that monitor how the device is oriented relative to the body of a user. The sensors may, for example, include touch sensors and other sensors that monitor how a user is holding a pair of headphones or other device while putting the headphones or other device onto the head of the user or other body part and that monitor ear patterns or other body part patterns to determine how the headphones or other device is being worn by the user.
Based on knowledge of the orientation of the headphones on the user's head or other orientation information, the headphones or other electronic device can be configured appropriately. For example, left and right stereo headphone channel assignments may be placed in a normal or reversed configuration, and other device settings may be changed. If desired, user input such as touch input may be used to adjust media playback settings and other device settings.
Touch sensor structures may be formed from thin layers of fabric, thin printed circuit substrates, and other thin layers of other material and may therefore sometimes be referred to touch sensor layers.
The touch sensor layers in an electronic device may be formed on rigid substrates such as rigid printed circuit board layers and/or may be formed on flexible substrates (e.g., flexible printed circuit material such as flexible layers of polyimide or sheets of other flexible polymer material).
In some configurations, touch sensor structures may be formed from printed coatings on a fabric or from conductive yarns or other strands of material in a fabric.
In general, the strands of material that form the fabric may be monofilaments, may be multifilament strands (sometimes referred to herein as yarns), may be formed from metal (e.g., metal monofilaments and/or yarns formed from multiple monofilament wires), may be formed from dielectric (e.g., polymer monofilaments and yarns formed from multiple polymer monofilaments), may include dielectric cores covered with conductive coatings such as metal (e.g., metal coated dielectric monofilaments and yarns of metal coated polymer-core monofilaments may be used to form conductive monofilaments and conductive yarns, respectively), may include outer insulating coatings (e.g., coatings of polymers or other dielectrics may surround each metal-clad polymer monofilament or each collection of metal-clad polymer monofilaments in a yarn, polymer insulation may enclose a multifilament metal wire, etc.), or may be other suitable strands of material for forming fabric.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 below represents future over-the-ear headphones; FIG. 4 is a diagram of an illustrative capacitive touch sensor; FIG. 5 is a top view of an illustrative fabric of the type that may be provided with conductive strands of material such as yarns or monofilaments to form a touch sensor.
Apple's patent FIG. 6 above is a cross-sectional side view of a portion of a sensor with electrodes separated by a compressible material; FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional side view of the sensor of FIG. 6 in a configuration in which the compressible material has been compressed so that the electrodes have moved closer to each other; and FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative sensor with two layers of fabric separated by a compressible structure.
Apple's patent FIG. 13 below is a perspective view of an illustrative headphone having external surfaces that can gather input from a user's fingers or other external objects; FIG. 14 is a side view of an illustrative headphone of the type shown in FIG. 13 in which a sensor is being used to detect a user's grip on the headphone by analyzing the pattern of finger contacts between the user's fingers and thereby discriminating between left-hand and right-hand grip patterns.
Apple's patent FIG. 16 above is a diagram of an illustrative radially symmetric sensor element pattern for an ear shape sensor on a pair of headphones; FIG. 17 is a diagram of an illustrative electrode pattern for an ear shape sensor such as a capacitive touch sensor having curved electrodes such as concentric ring-shaped electrodes and radially extending electrodes that overlap the ring-shaped electrodes; and FIG. 20 is a flow chart of illustrative steps involved in operating an electronic device such as a pair of headphones having sensor structures.
Apple's granted patent 10,484,793 was originally filed in Q3 2016 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Apple was granted a second smart fabric's patent today titled "Electrical components attached to fabric under number 10,485,103. You could review that patent here.