Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to smart fabric buttons that could be integrated into future clothing items and Apple devices.
Apple has used fabric buttons for the iPad's Smart Keyboard and they may advance the use of smart fabric buttons in the future. Apple notes in their filing that electronic devices with fabric buttons may include wristwatch bands, keyboards, enclosures, portable electronic devices such as cellular telephones or laptop computers, wearable items, an item of clothing, a cover, a wearable structure, or other fabric-based structure. More specifically, Apple elaborates by noting that the wearable structures could include a strap, hat, glove, shirt, etc.
Each button may have sensor circuitry such as capacitive sensor circuitry or resistive sensor circuitry. A control circuit can monitor conductive structures in the button to detect changes in electrical button characteristics such as capacitance and resistance changes and thereby gather information on button press events. For example, a fabric button may have strands of conductive material or other conductive structures that form resistive paths, capacitive sensor electrodes, and other conductive structures that can be monitored by control circuitry.
Fabric buttons may have fabric movable button structures that are coupled to fabric support structures by fabric biasing structures. The fabric biasing structures may contain strands of material that are configured to form bistable fabric springs. The biasing structures and other fabric structures in a fabric button may be formed from knit fabric or other intertwined strands of material.
Fabric buttons in devices, according to Apple, may include sensors, a lot of sensors. Apple notes that the list of sensors could include "optical sensors such as optical sensors that emit and detect light, ultrasonic sensors, optical touch sensors, optical proximity sensors, and/or other touch sensors and/or proximity sensors, monochromatic and color ambient light sensors, image sensors, fingerprint sensors, temperature sensors, sensors for measuring three-dimensional non-contact gestures ("air gestures"), pressure sensors, sensors for detecting position, orientation, and/or motion (e.g., accelerometers, magnetic sensors such as compass sensors, gyroscopes, and/or inertial measurement units that contain some or all of these sensors), health sensors, radio-frequency sensors (e.g., sensors that gather position information, three-dimensional radio-frequency images, and/or other information using radar principals or other radio-frequency sensing), depth sensors (e.g., structured light sensors and/or depth sensors based on stereo imaging devices), optical sensors such as self-mixing sensors and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors that gather time-of-flight measurements, humidity sensors, moisture sensors, gaze tracking sensors, three-dimensional sensors (e.g., time-of-flight image sensors, pairs of two-dimensional image sensors that gather three-dimensional images using binocular vision, and more if you could believe it.
According to Apple, buttons switches serve as force sensors that detect button press activity. If desired, strain gauge force sensors, force sensors such as capacitive or resistive force sensors, touch sensors, optical sensors, radio-frequency sensors, and/or other sensors can be used in detecting button press activity (e.g., by detecting finger press force on buttons).
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram of an illustrative electronic device; FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a portion of an illustrative electronic device with buttons.
Apple's patent FIGS. 5 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative button during use; and FIG. 13 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative button during a button press event.
For finer details, review Apple's patent application number 20210048894. You could check out our Smart Fabric patent Archive to review Apple's other patent applications they have on record regarding the future use of fabrics.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.