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Thursday, January 01, 2009, 06:00 pm PT (09:00 pm ET)

Apple files for patent on winter-friendly iPhone gloves

Addressing the complaints of nearly every iPhone owner in a northern climate, Apple has filed for a patent that would cover a means of using a multi-touch device with gloves.

The US Patent Office application notes that capacitive touchscreens like those on the iPhone and iPod touch are problematic in colder weather. As they depend on the electrical response from a user's fingertips, which is often blocked off when wearing insulated gloves, the screens either force users to take off their gloves or else sit tight until they return indoors.

Apple's solution would give gloves a second, inner layer beyond the surface that would simulate the electrical feedback of human fingers when exposed to the outside. Apertures at each fingertip would let users peel back the outer, more weatherproof layer to leave a finger protected only by the inner layer but capable of using touchscreen devices with roughly the same responsiveness as bare skin.

The technique could use either an elastic ring to open or close the openings on the fly, or could have protective caps instead.

Unlike many of Apple's patent filings, the basic goal of the gloves isn't unique: clothiers such as Dots have developed their own gloves that also try to generate conductivity. In most cases, though, these often either limit the size of the contact points or else make the conductive surface part of a single layer and thus reduce the protection of the gloves against the cold.

Credited to inventors Steven Hotelling and Ashwin Sunder, it's not known whether the submitted patent reveals any of Apple's plans. The company only rarely ventures into fabric accessories, such as iPod socks or the pouches that have come with some iPods. The application was originally filed on June 28th, 2007, a day before the original iPhone's launch.

iPhone glove patent