Apple Wins Patent for a High Tactility (Magic) Glove System

Posted on January 26, 2011 by

Apple was granted a patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a new Magic Glove System. The iPhone, iPod touch and iPad have capacitive touch screens, which cannot be used if the user is wearing gloves. Apple is working on a way to make gloves that would work around this issue. Gloves like this can already be purchased by Agloves. They are available at www.agloves.com for $17.99 and work great.

From Patently Apple:

One of the surprises that surfaced at the US Patent and Trademark Office this morning, was a granted patent for a new Magic Glove System from Apple. Being that Apple loves the word Magic,  why not precast it as such right out of the gate. The proposed high tactility glove system isn’t as magical as a projection-type of touch panel that was revealed in November. Then again, patents are about concepts and Apple is clearly working on several solutions relating to working with an iPhone in colder weather. Perhaps we’ll see one of these solutions come to market sometime in the next year or two.

Patent Background

Electronic devices, and in particular portable electronic devices such as the iPhone and iPod have become ubiquitous. Some users may operate electronic devices at any time, and in any place. In particular, some users may operate electronic devices in cold conditions while wearing warm (and thick) clothing to ward off the cold. When users wear gloves, operating the electronic device may become difficult.

Input mechanisms on some electronic devices may require precise manipulation to perform electronic device operations. In some embodiments, some input mechanisms may only recognize inputs provided by a finger placed directly or near proximity on the input mechanisms. When users, in cold weather, wear thick or bulky gloves, some electronic devices may therefore be unable to recognize or identify user interactions with the input mechanism. The loss of tactile feedback to the user may prevent the user from properly operating the electronic device, and may lead to frustration. Alternatively, if the user has to remove his gloves to operate the electronic device, the user’s hand may become cold and uncomfortable, which may also lead to user frustration.

Accordingly, there is a need for a glove system with which a user may provide inputs to the input mechanism of an electronic device to direct the electronic device to perform operations.

Apple’s Proposed Solution

This invention is directed to a glove system including an inner liner and an outer liner operative to transmit user inputs to the input mechanism of an electronic device.

2 - apple patent jan 2011 - high tactility glove system

A glove that includes an inner liner and an outer shell may be provided. The liner may include a palm portion and one or more fingers operative to receive a user’s hand. The liner may be constructed such that the user receives tactile feedback when the user manipulates the input mechanism of an electronic device while wearing the liner.

The inner liner may be manufactured from any suitable material, including materials with properties similar to human skin. For example, the inner liner may be manufactured from a material that has a low thermal conductivity, electrical resistivity similar to human skin, “anti-sticky” attributes, or any other suitable property. In some embodiments, the material for the liner, the outer shell, or both may be selected to closely mimic the tactile effect of manipulating the electronic device using bare fingertips.

The liner may be inserted in the outer shell to form the gloves. The outer shell may include a palm portion and one or more finger portions (e.g., up to the number of finger portions of the liner, so that the liner may fit within the outer shell). The outer shell may include an insulation layer to keep the user’s hands warm. In some embodiments, the insulation layer may be a distinct layer placed in between the liner and the outer shell.

The outer shell may be constructed from any suitable material for preventing cold air, wind, rain and/or snow from reaching the user’s hand. For example, the outer shell may be constructed from a water proof or water resistant material (e.g., nylon or a polymer fabric). As another example, the outer shell may be constructed from a material that has a low thermal conductivity (e.g., to keep the user’s hands warm).

In some embodiments, the outer shell may include a mechanism by which the liner may protrude through the outer shell to allow a user to operate an electronic device. For example, the outer shell may include one or more apertures operative to allow the liner to pass through. The apertures may be located on any suitable portion of the outer shell, including for example on the finger tips, or along the finger.

To prevent the liner from protruding from the outer shell unintentionally, and to maintain the integrity of the glove (e.g., to prevent rain from reaching the liner through the aperture, or to prevent cooling of the user’s fingers through the aperture), the outer shell may include a mechanism by which the aperture may be closed. For example, the outer shell may include an elastic ring that surrounds the aperture such that, in the absence of an external force stretching the ring (e.g., to allow the liner to pass through the outer shell), the ring maintains the aperture at least substantially closed. As another example, the outer shell may include a cap that may be placed over the aperture.

When the user wishes to operate the electronic device, the user may peel back the outer shell such that the liner may extend through the aperture in the outer shell. In some embodiments, an elastic ring around the aperture may maintain the outer shell peeled back away from the exposed liner. Once the user has finished operating the electronic device, the user may retract the liner into the outer shell.

In some embodiments, at least portions of the inner liner and of the outer shell may be electrically coupled. Instructions provided by the user may be electrically conducted from the user’s finger, through the inner liner, through the coupling between the liner and the outer shell, through the outer shell, and to the input mechanism of the electronic device.

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