Apple has been testing various methods to make its wearable devices easier and more natural to use, be it the use of smart bands or additional sensors. A new patent reveals how the company is testing the use of smart fabrics that could double up as buttons.
Similar to various touchscreen-compatible gloves from third-party brands, Apple plans to use a conductive fabric mechanism to make wearable devices more comfortable to wear. One of the recent patents filed by the Cupertino-based company talks about how fabric can be mixed with conductive strands to adjust the tension and fit of a smartwatch’s band.
“Middle-of-strand knots” can be spread throughout the fabric. When current is passed through such knots, the tension of the fabric can be adjusted accordingly. Moreover, conductive strands could intersect at the node and multiple such strands could be used to form knots. Using the same mechanism of passing current through those knots, a magnetic field can be generated that can be used to keep the fabric close or away from the device as per a user’s comfort.
Another patent filed by the company talks about fabric domes that could potentially behave like buttons. Instead of relying on usual buttons or switches, fabric domes with two layers can be used as buttons and switches. The lower layer can be laid flat, while the upper fabric can be dome-shaped, effectively creating a pocket of air between the two layers. When the dome is pressed, the two layers contact, forming an effective switch.
The patent even suggests that these dome-shaped fabric switches can be used as a membrane for keyboards with tile-shaped keycaps. The same technology can also be potentially used with smart speakers, with the smart fabric covering the device used for touch-based interaction.
Apple files for hundreds of patents every year and only a few of them get used in actual products. While the two patents playing with the idea of using smart fabrics to make self-adjusting bands and button are pretty interesting, it would be years before we see any such feature on Apple’s products.[Source: USPTO]