The HomePod currently relies on hands-free Siri voice control, but it also provides a touch-sensitive top for basic control when the assistant is unavailable. A future HomePod could have touch-sensitive fabric on the sides for additional control, a new Apple patent grant suggests.

Titled “Fabric-Covered Electronic Device with Touch Sensor” and published this morning by the United States Patent & Trademark Office, it details how touch-sensitive fabric could be used for a vast array of products ranging from a future HomePod or a smart iPhone battery cover to things like a laptop computer or a wristwatch device or “a device embedded in eyeglasses”.

Here’s an excerpt from the patent abstract:

Electronic devices such as audio devices may include fabric. As an example, the housing of a speaker may be covered with a layer of fabric. Openings may be provided in the fabric to allow sound to be emitted from within the device.

Apple warns it might be “challenging” to enhance functionality with touch-sensitive fabric.

For example, it may be difficult to integrate input and output devices into a speaker with a fabric layer. If care is not taken, the user may find it cumbersome to provide input to and receive output from the speaker.

The Cupertino tech giant proposes using light-emitting components or fabric with different visual characteristics to mark where the touch-sensitive regions of the fabric are located.

The touch-sensitive regions may be shaped as media control symbols

AppleInsider has more:

The aim appears to be that a user will be able to touch any side of the speaker to perform at least basic volume control. This could be more convenient than having to reach the top of the speaker, for instance if the user has positioned the HomePod atop shelves.

Touch sensitivity could be realized via conductive strands in the layer of fabric, Apple explains.

An illustrative layer of warp-knit fabric layer with diamond-shaped openings

Alternatively, touch-sensitive substrate underneath the fabric would provide additional control. “In either method, audio playback controls may be shown on the side of the speaker either though areas lit from within or from markings on the fabric,” AppleInsider notes.

Apple also recently filed a patent application with the USPTO for a smart keyboard accessory that could connect directly to the iPad touchscreen, without having to connect over Bluetooth or use the physical Smart Connector.

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