Apple is working on smart fabric buttons which can be integrated into items of clothing, turning your regular, old, dumb clothes into futuristic smart clothing that you have to upgrade every year (maybe?).
Apple notes in a patent, which was recently published by the US Patent & Trademark Office, that electronic devices with fabric buttons could include wearable structures could include a watch strap, hat, glove, or shirt, as well as keyboards, enclosures, portable electronic devices such as cellular telephones or laptop computers.
The patent, which was discovered by Patently Apple (opens in new tab), reveals how the smart fabric will work, using strands of conductive material that form resistive paths and can be monitored by control circuitry.
This would allow a fabric button to be created in a knit fabric or other intertwined strands of material.
In its most basic form, an integrated button in clothing could be useful as a way of controlling basic functions on your iPhone, such as answering a call, activating Siri, or taking a picture.
But the patent also includes a list of sensors that the fabric could include:
- Optical sensors
- Ultrasonic sensors
- Optical touch sensors
- Optical proximity sensors, and/or other touch sensors and/or proximity sensors
- Monochromatic and colour 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
- Health sensors
- Radio-frequency sensors
- Depth sensors
- 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)
To name a few!
If combined into a single garment, these would obviously make a very compelling iPhone replacement, but, equally, individual sensors could also be used in Apple Watch bands for more niche use cases.
Of course, it's always worth remembering that this is just a patent filing, so there's no way of knowing when, or if, this will see the light of day.
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