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Future Apple devices may boast environmental sensor suite with built-in thermometer

iWatch concept by Todd Hamilton

A pair of documents unearthed on Thursday detail Apple's ambitions to make the iPhone — or rumored iWatch — a one-stop-shop for gathering all kinds of data, including information about a user's surrounding environment.

In two patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple describes environmental sensor suites that can be embedded into portable electronics like an iPhone, iPad and "wrist-watch" devices. With the so-called "iWatch" rumored to be on the horizon, Apple could conceivably incorporate one or more of the following inventions into the smartwatch to gather humidity, pressure and temperature data.

Apple's "Electronic devices with environmental sensors" filing covers a component that sports multiple sensors. Attached to an electrical interface like a flexible printed circuit, the environmental sensor could include separate sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity and sound.

Source: USPTO

The printed circuit is mounted within a device chassis in such a way that the component is at least partially enclosed save for an opening that allows sound, air and other environmental materials to interact with system sensors.

While somewhat open to the elements, the sensor package is protected from damage through use of an integrated rigid support structure. As noted in the filing, adding these extra sensing packages to a mobile device would normally require more ports, which could lead to the collection of unwanted debris or harmful material. To solve this problem, Apple suggests the sensor array include a microphone or speaker so that it can be installed into an existing audio port.

As for data, the information gathered by the proposed sensor package can be processed by the device's on-board CPU and displayed onscreen for user consumption.

In a second patent filing entitled "Electronic devices with temperature sensors," Apple describes a separate type of sensor that can be incorporated into a device button.

The invention calls for a thermal sensor to be mounted operatively onto a button component that moves within a device's chassis. For example, the current iPhone 5s volume control actuator would be a good candidate for installation. Switches, slides and other operable parts are also mentioned as possible placement locations.

Apple notes that a thermally conductive metal or other material can be used in the fabrication of said button, which then transfers temperature data to the sensor mounted beneath the surface.

The system can measure any material that comes into contact with the button, including air and a user's finger. The data can be used to inform the device when it's too hot or too cold to operate or, more interestingly, display the temperature of a user's skin onscreen. The latter application could be configured to serve as a wrist-worn health monitor's thermometer.

Apple's sensor package patent applications were first filed for in 2012. Henry H. Yang and Matthew E. Last are credited as inventors of the thermal button property, while the two are joined by Romain A. Teil on the environmental sensor filing.