Future Apple Watch bands might do a lot more than just hold the device to your wrist. In fact, Apple is actively exploring how it can add additional functionality to the bands.
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a trio of Apple patent applications on Thursday, each detailing a different method of developing advanced fabric-embedded technology. To be more specific, Apple is apparently exploring how to embed electrical components such as sensors, microphones, speakers, buttons, touch-sensitive switches and other user interface apparatuses into flexible fabrics. Of course, the applications are written in the typical dense, technical jargon. But they do hint at Apple’s greater ambitions with its Apple Watch platform.
3D Fabric Patents
The first of the patents, “Three-Dimensional Fabric With Embedded Input-Output Devices,” explains a method for creating 3D braiding devices that can weave fabric with small, internal pockets. These pockets can then be used to house a number of components, including touch pads, buttons, speakers, microphones, cameras and sensors.
The second patent, “Fabric with Embedded Electrical Components,” details a similar method of embedding important hardware within a woven material. These components could interface with a primary device by way of electrical contacts that act as terminals via conductive fibers. Essentially, they can send or receive commands to a device that they are attached to.
The third patent, titled “Fabric sensing device,” is arguably the most interesting. While its primary objective is hidden within dense language, it explains a method of creating a touch-sensitive textile or fabric. In essence, a fabric — whether a band or other wearable — could directly sense user touch or pressure. And its use could extend beyond Apple Watch bands, as the patent specifically points out that the sensing fabric could be embodied in a garment, such as a jacket sleeve.
Obviously, the implications of strap- or fabric-embedded sensors are wide-ranging. A future Apple Watch could incorporate textile-based sensors into its design, perhaps with the body of such a device becoming much more minimal. An advanced Watch band could sport contextual UI inputs, too — such as a specific fabric “button” to invoke Siri.
And, though it’s probably a ways off, the technology in the patents could certainly lead to other items of “smart clothing.” While an “Apple jacket” might seem like a far-fetched idea now, having items of clothing that integrate and interface with our devices is solidly within the realm of reality. Some would say that it’s only a matter of time before they’re on store shelves.
Apple has had plans for its Watch straps for quite some time now. Last year, Apple filed a patent application that suggested a wearable could become thinner by moving certain components — such as a haptic feedback motor — into its band or strap. While it’s looking unlikely that the upcoming Apple Watch Series 3 will utilize any of this technology, taken together, today’s patents could hint that Apple has bigger plans. Not only for its Apple Watch but for fabric-based and wearable technology in general.