Apple Reveals a Future Version of HomePod that includes invisible touch controls that only light up when needed
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a future HomePod with touch sensitive controls built into the fabric that could light up to be visible when needed and deactivate when not in use.
Apple notes that it may be challenging to enhance the functionality of HomePod. For example, it may be difficult to integrate input and output devices into HomePod with a fabric layer.
Apple's patent describes how a touch sensor may be used to detect touch input on the layer of fabric of a future HomePod.
The touch sensor may include capacitive touch sensor electrodes including drive lines and sense lines. In some arrangements, the touch sensor is formed from conductive strands in the layer of fabric.
In other arrangements, the touch sensor is formed from conductive traces on a substrate. The substrate may be formed from portions of the curved housing or may be formed from a separate layer.
Light-emitting components and/or fabric with different visual characteristics may be used to mark where the touch-sensitive regions of the fabric are located. The touch-sensitive regions may be shaped as media control symbols.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a perspective view of Apple's HomePod having a housing covered with a fabric layer illustrating where touch sensors and control circuitry for new touch controls will be; FIG. 4 shows how a layer of fabric may have openings such as diamond-shaped openings like the current HomePod provides.
More specifically, Apple's patent FIG. 16 above shows how touch sensor #50 may be located in discrete touch-sensitive regions on housing. Touch-sensitive regions on this future HomePod such as touch-sensitive regions #96 may have any suitable shape. In the example of FIG. 16, touch-sensitive regions have the shape of a plus symbol (e.g., for increasing volume) and a minus symbol (e.g., for decreasing volume).
The touch sensor may include touch sensor electrodes #94 that may be located in touch-sensitive zones.
The location of touch-sensitive regions may be static or dynamic. In a static arrangement, the location of touch-sensitive regions 96 remains fixed. For example, capacitive touch sensor electrodes may be located in regions that are always touch-sensitive.
In a dynamic arrangement, the location of touch-sensitive regions may change. For example, the control circuitry may selectively activate and deactivate portions of touch sensor to create touch-sensitive regions and non-touch-sensitive regions.
When the control circuitry activates the touch sensors in the non-touch-sensitive regions, those regions may become touch-sensitive region. When the control circuitry deactivates the touch sensors in the touch-sensitive region, those regions may become non-touch-sensitive regions.
The control circuitry may, if desired, selectively activate and deactivate certain touch sensor electrodes to achieve a touch-sensitive region having a desired shape (e.g., a media control symbol or a symbol corresponding to any other suitable user input function).
Apple further notes that the HomePod may include touch sensors, light-emitting devices (e.g., light-emitting diodes that backlight button icons and/or that produce other visual output for a user), and/or other input-output components.
If desired, strands may be formed from bare metal wires or metal wire intertwined with insulating monofilaments (as examples). Bare metal strands and strands of polymer covered with conductive coatings may be provided with insulating polymer jackets.
In some configuration, strands may include optical fibers (e.g., lossy optical fibers with surface roughening or other features that allow the strands to guide light while emitting portion of the guided light outwardly). Optical waveguide strands (e.g., lossy optical fibers formed from glass, transparent polymer, etc.) can be provided with light from light sources such as light-emitting diodes to display information (e.g., desired patterns of light). In some cases, it may be desirable for lossy fiber to appear dark or colored in reflection when illuminated by external light, so that the lossy fiber may match the appearance of other fibers.
If desired, light-emitting devices on the HomePod may emit light in the infrared, which is invisible to the user, but can be detected by external sensors and devices to support light-based communication between item 10 and external devices. The HomePod may also include infrared light-detectors to support infrared light-based communications and sensing.
If desired, the control circuitry may use light-emitting devices to indicate what control function is associated with touch-sensitive regions. Light-emitting devices may be used to display audio playback control symbols (e.g., a play symbol, a pause symbol, next and previous track symbols, increase and decrease volume symbols, etc.) and/or other control symbols (e.g., a menu symbol, a power symbol, a sleep symbol, etc.).
Apple's patent application 20200073511 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was filed back in Q2 2019. You Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.