Apple exploring Touchsenstive Smart Fabric for future input devices

Apple Smart Fabric technology

Apple is exploring technology for a Fabric sensing device. Over the last few years, we have seen numerous developments in the smart fabric area.

Legacy textile makers are pursuing this opportunity to relieve some of the competitive pressures and position themselves around a new and exciting industry of smart textiles.

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According to a recently approved patent, 10,739,924, Apple is exploring a touch-sensitive textile device that can be configured to detect the occurrence of a touch, the location of a touch, and/or the force of a touch on the touch-sensitive textile device. 

The problem with traditional input devices and touch sensors is that they are formed using rigid materials and/or a rigid substrate sheet and, therefore, may be limited to certain term factors. 

To mitigate this problem, Apple is exploring input devices that can be made out of flexible materials in order to be easily adapted for use in a variety of applications.

Apple Smart Fabric

In the company’s design, the touch-sensitive textile device includes a set of conductive threads oriented along a first direction, and the second set of conductive threads interwoven with the first set of conductive threads and oriented along a second direction. 

The smart fabric will include a sensing circuit that is operatively coupled to the first and second sets of conductive threads. The sensing circuit may also be configured to detect a touch or near touch based on a variation in an electrical measurement using the first or second set of conductive threads.

Traditional electronic devices may include a variety of input devices, including buttons, keys, mice, trackballs, joysticks, and the like.

Some traditional electronic devices may include a touch panel or touch screen that is configured to receive a touch input from a user. Apple Smart Fabric technology

FIG. 1 depicts an example system of devices including a touch-sensitive textile device 100. In particular, FIG. 1 depicts a touch-sensitive textile device that is incorporated into an article of clothing that can be worn by a user. 

In the example depicted in FIG. 1, the touch-sensitive textile device is incorporated into the sleeve of a garment. However, the touch-sensitive textile device may be incorporated into a bracelet, a wrist band, armband, scarf, or other wearable items. 

In addition, the touch-sensitive textile device could be as easily incorporated into a variety of other articles that are not worn by the user including, for example, a cloth, rug, tapestry, upholstery, purse, backpack, lanyard, or other fabric-based article or component. 

Other Wearable Players are exploring Smart Fabric as well

Other players in the SmartWatch space such as Huami, the maker of Amazfit watches and Xiaomi Mi Band line of wearables have also been exploring the space of Smart Fabric.

Recently the company got a patent approval for a wearable garment that could facilitate ECG (electrocardiogram) monitoring.

As with approved patents, it’s hard to tell if it will ever become a real product. What it does suggest is that Apple is indeed utilizing its R&D dollars to explore all future options around potential wearables.

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Sudz Niel Kar
I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products, have a BS in Computer Science and an MBA specializing in emerging tech, and owned the popular site AppleToolBox. In my day job, I advise Fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health and fitness-tech evolution and keeping a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships, and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Watch and closely monitor my HRV and other recovery metrics.


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