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Apple researching how to make smart clothes, bags, and furniture

Detail from the patent showing a man perhaps checking the time -- on his sleeve instead of an Apple Watch

Apple is continuing to investigate ways of making fabric touch sensitive so that it could embed controls or detect gestures on products far beyond Apple Watch bands or iPhone cases.

Previously, Apple has researched what it described as a fabric control device, where it was focused on just how to embed any controls into any fabric.

Now a newly-revealed patent application shows that the firm is pursuing this concept further. "Fabric Sensing Device" is about how to use the controls that get embedded in fabric — and also why this is all so desirable.

"Traditional electronic devices may include a variety of input devices, including buttons, keys, mice, trackballs, joysticks, and the like," says Apple. "Some traditional electronic devices may include a touch panel or touch screen that is configured to receive a touch input from a user."

"However, many traditional input devices and touch sensors are formed using rigid materials and/or a rigid substrate sheet," it continues, "and, therefore, may be limited to certain form factors."

Apple's attention is on using "touch-sensitive textiles" in order to add controls to "a variety of consumer products." The only use-case example shown patent application's illustrations, though, is of a user touching what appears to be an Apple Watch band.

It's possible, then, that is exactly as far as Apple is interested in the idea. But perhaps in the same way that all patent applications try to cover every conceivable use of their proposal, Apple's list of devices that could use fabric controls does include more than just the Apple Watch.

"In particular," says Apple, "the devices and techniques described herein may be applied to a variety of textile materials that may be incorporated into consumer electronic products, articles of clothing, clothing accessories, handbags, upholstered items, household textiles, and other items that may include a textile component or element."

So you can bet that if this ever becomes a shipping product, it will be in a new range of Apple Watch bands.

But perhaps a MacBook Pro sleeve could display the laptop's current battery charge and give you a button to shut it down.

Detail from the patent showing one of many ways controls could be embedded within fabric
Detail from the patent showing one of many ways controls could be embedded within fabric

And it could also be in a seat cover on the Apple Car, or you could stroke the arm of your couch to control an Apple TV 4K.

Or less exotically, HomePods could have controls on the mesh fabric instead of requiring a touch panel at the top. Apple has previously investigated doing that, too.

The patent application is credited to three inventors, all of whom were also listed on Apple's previous fabric control patent application.