Apple patent hints at ‘smart clothing’ (AppleWear, anyone?)

Apple has filed for a patent (number 10,156,029) for a “fabric control device.” It hints that the company has looked into “smart” clothing that could include touch sensors and the ability to control other Apple devices.

Electronic textiles, also known as smart garments, smart clothing, smart textiles, or smart fabrics, are fabrics that enable digital components such as a battery and a light (including small computers), and electronics to be embedded in them.

Apple’s patent involves a fabric-based item that may include a housing that is covered in fabric. The fabric may include conductive strands that form touch sensor circuitry. 

What a section of “smart clothing” could look like.

What a section of “smart clothing” could look like.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that it may be “desirable” to form bags, furniture, clothing, electronic devices, and other items using materials such as fabric. However, fabric-based items such as these may not offer desired features. For example, a fabric-based electronic device may be awkward to use, may not have an attractive appearance, or may not offer desired functionality. That’s not acceptable to Apple.

Per Apple’s invention, the fabric may include portions that are patterned differently and that have different properties. For example, the fabric may include areas that transmit more light than other areas or are more opaque than other areas or may include areas that are smoother than other areas or that are coarser than other areas. 

Button labels and other features may be formed by weaving or otherwise intertwining strands of material in the fabric with desired patterns, by processing fabric through application of heat and using other processing techniques, and by applying ink or other materials. 

Areas of the fabric such as areas with enhanced light transmission, button labels, distinct textures, or other attributes may overlap input circuitry such as button switches, touch sensor circuits, force sensors, proximity sensors, and other sensing circuitry. The fabric-based item may include control circuitry that gathers user input from the input circuitry and wireless communications circuitry that the control circuitry uses to transmit remote control commands and other wireless signals in response information from the input circuitry. Remote control commands may be used to remotely control electronic equipment. 

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.