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Apple Smart Cover patent reveals 'peek mode' tech

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Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent for the Smart Cover accessory introduced alongside the iPad 2, with the IP not only covering the magnet-based technology associated with the foldable protective design, but also a function called "peek mode."

Source: USPTO

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,264,310 for an "Accessory device for peek mode" describes in detail the magnetic mechanism found in the company's Smart Cover for iPad. Also found further down in the invention's language is a mention of a unique feature called "peek mode," which activates the tablet's display in segments according to how the cover is lifted off the glass.

Magnet Array
Magnet array alignment in Smart Cover hinge mechanism and iPad.

Apple already owns the Smart Cover design patent, however the '310 property formally illustrates the methods and mechanisms that allow the part to interface with the iPad. The patent calls for an accessory with a magnetic assembly connected to its body, which in this case is the hinge area that comes in contact with the device. The magnets are installed adjacent to one another and arranged according to a pattern of alternating polarities, thus making it almost impossible to misalign the cover with the iPad's counterpart magnetic assembly.

Hinge Assembly
Exploded view of Hinge mechanism.

By using magnets, Apple gets around building in unsightly fasteners or other hardware that would go unused by owners who choose to not purchase the Smart Cover. The iPad's magnetic assemblies are hidden within the non-magnetic aluminum chassis, one meant to attach the Smart Cover's hinge mechanism and another to keep the flap secure when closed.

Cover Exploded
Exploded view of Smart Cover.

The invention also describes the use of magnetically sensitive electronics like a Hall Sensor, which detects the presence of a magnetic field, to change the operating state of the device. For example, the iPad can "sense" whether the Smart Cover is in the closed position and adjust its on and off settings accordingly.

Peek Mode

Peek Mode
So-called "Peek Mode" functionality.

Perhaps most interesting is an embodiment in which a number of sensors, including the aforementioned Hall Sensor, are tasked to detect which segment of the Smart Cover has been lifted off the display's glass. This so-called "peek mode" allows for the screen to activate only those portions that are no longer in contact with the cover, or more specifically to display content when the outermost portion of the Smart Cover is lifted.

Peek mode calls for the exposed segment of the screen to show interactive icons, such as time of day and notes, thereby saving precious energy on limited processor and display use. Going further, an "extended peek mode" can be activated if more than the first segment of the Smart Cover is lifted off the screen, thereby displaying more content or triggering a specific operation. The invention notes that a front-facing camera or other type of sensor can be used for this function.

Peek Mode
Illustration of "Extended Peek Mode."

As the patent was first applied for in December 2010, months before the iPad 2 and Smart Cover were released in February 2011, it is possible that Apple was at least considering implementing peek mode at that time.

It is not known if the company will one day incorporate the functionality into a future tablet, however Apple is actively investigating advanced Smart Cover technology such as incorporating secondary displays into the first-party accessory.