Apple Smart Fabric patent points to future Apple Watch band using touch-based circuitry to control audio and more
Obviously, Apple started covering Apple’s smart fabric inventions in 2017. With today’s patent filing, Apple has a minimum of 45 registered patents covering smart fabric for Apple’s smart keyboard folio. the iPad and future products from AirPods Max to AR/VR smart gloves, smart clothes, smart shoes and more. Apple also has a few on a future Apple Watch band (01 and 02). In fact, last week Apple’s patent titled “Fabric Sensing Device” was published by the US Patent & Trademark Office which focuses on the smart fabric used in a future Apple Watch Band.
In general, it can be advantageous to implement touch functionality using a wide range of materials that can be integrated into a number of flexible and versatile form factors. In some implementations, a tactile textile may be incorporated into a consumer electronics product, including, for example, a portable electronic device.
For example, the tactile textile can be incorporated into a portion of the band or cord that is used to secure the device to a user’s body. A touch-sensitive textile can also be incorporated into an article of clothing such as a shirt, jacket, glove, or other textile-based garment.
For example, a touch-sensitive textile can be incorporated into a sleeve, pocket or other part of a garment that is easily accessible to the user. In some embodiments, a tactile textile may be incorporated into an accessory, including, for example, a purse, wallet, purse, backpack, and/or other accessory including a textile element. A touch-sensitive textile can also be incorporated into an article that is not worn, including, for example, a fabric, rug, upholstery, padding, or other fabric-based article or component.
The tactile textile can be incorporated or integrated with other electronic components or electronic circuits to form a tactile textile device. In some implementations, a touch textile device may be configured to recognize a touch gesture or gestures on a surface of the textile.
The one or more touch gestures may include a swipe or movement of the user’s finger across the surface of the textile which may be interpreted as a command or other user input.
In some implementations, the tactile textile device may be configured to sense and measure the force of a touch on the textile, which may be used to interpret additional user input and/or commands.
The tactile textile device may also be incorporated into or configured to interface with an electronic device to provide the user with input to programs or instructions running on the electronic device.
In some embodiments, the tactile textile may include a capacitive touch sensor that is configured to sense and estimate a location of a touch or near touch on the surface of the textile. In some implementations, the tactile textile includes two sets of conductive yarns that are transversely oriented to each other in a textile material. The lead wires may be operatively coupled to a sensing circuit that is configured to produce and monitor an electrical charge on each of the lead wires in the touch textile.
When an object, such as the user’s finger, approaches the conductive wires, electrical charge may be dissipated or discharged, which may be detected by the sensing circuit. By determining which conductive threads have been discharged, the sensing circuit (or other processing unit) can be used to estimate the location of the touch on the textile material.
In some embodiments, the touch textile may include a resistive touch sensor that is configured to send text and estimate the location of a touch on the surface of the textile. In some implementations, the tactile textile includes two sets of conductive yarns that are interwoven into the textile, each set generally oriented transverse to the other.
A touch, such as a finger, can come into contact with the surface of one wire of each set of lead wires, which can reduce or change the resistance or impedance between the two wires. The reduced resistance or impedance caused by touch can be detected by a sensing circuit that is configured to monitor and sense the resistance and/or impedance between pairs of lead wires. Additionally, by determining which wires are associated with the change in resistance or impedance, the sensing circuit (or other processing unit) can be used to estimate the location of the touch on the surface of the textile material.
Apple’s patent FIGS. 3A-B below illustrate an example of a resistive tactile textile device.
Overall, smart fabric could be used for many devices and articles, as noted in the body of the patent to include a sleeve, pocket, or other part of a garment, backpack, etc. More immediately, Apple has flagged a smart fabric “band” for the Apple Watch as a priority in its patent claims, which may give us some warning.
Apple Patent Claims, which define and protect a patent in court, we find that Apple emphasizes the smart fabric/textile used to make an Apple Watch band as follows:
Patent Claim #11: “The system of claim 1, wherein youthe wearable fabric article includes a wristband and wherein the touch sensor comprises a capacitive touch sensor configured to detect multiple touches.”
Patent Claim No. 12: “A system, comprising: an electronic device configured to provide audio output; a wearable cloth strip having leads that form a capacitive touch sensor, the capacitive touch sensor being configured to receive touch input; and circuitry configured to control audio output in response to touch input.”
Patent Claim #16“A system, comprising: a mobile telephone; a fabric wristband configured to communicate wirelessly with the electronic device, wherein the fabric wristband comprises: non-conductive yarns; and conductive yarns woven with the non-conductive yarns and configured to form a touch sensor on the fabric wristband; and circuitry configured to control operation of the mobile phone based on touch input to the touch sensor.”
Apple’s patent also states that the touch controls on the Apple Watch band are capable of controlling audio on the AirPods, including placing them on silent and/or do not disturb, etc.
For details, see Apple patent application number 20220107695.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of bringing such a product to market is unknown at this time.