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Forget Apple Watch 7 — new Apple patent reveals smart clothing

Apple patent smart clothes
(Image credit: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

Are smart clothes the next big thing in wearable technology? According to a patent, Apple is working on 'smart fabric' for clothing like shirts, hats and more. And as someone who both enjoys fashion and embraces the cyborg life, I really, really want to try these connected garments out.

But since it's just a patent — flagged by PatentlyApple — Apple's smart fabric won't be landing in my wardrobe or fashion show runways anytime soon. For all we know, the company hasn't even made physical prototypes of its newly-protected designs, which feature fabric buttons with sensor circuitry for undisclosed controls.

The smart fabric buttons could house an array of sensors, from optical, ambient light, temperature, and air gesture sensors, to proximity sensors and tech for picking up health information. Time-of-flight (or LiDAR) sensors could also be borrowed from the iPhone 12 Pro and iPad Pro

That's the abbreviated version. I recommend sifting through the full patent if you're fascinated by the potential functionalities of smart fabrics like I am. 

Apple might be making smart clothes, sew what?

Apple smart fabric patent

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

Competitors have already beat Apple to launching smart clothes. Remember the Google-made Levi's jean jacket that can control your phone? How about the Ralph Lauren Polo Tech smart shirt, which uses silver fibers to measure your heart rate and breathing?

Neither Nike smart sneakers with Siri nor Sony's wearable AC unit have caught on, and I haven't met anyone who wants suit pants with built-in wireless charging pads.

This new patent isn't Apple's first pertaining to smart textiles, either. The company previously filed for health-focused smart sportswear, a sleep-tracking smart blanket, and even an advanced fabric weaving machine

So why am I invested? Simple curiosity about the evolution of wearables, that's why. 

Although the Apple Watch 7 is on the way, I want to know what Apple has up its sleeve for wearable tech. After all, the folks at Cupertino managed to make smartwatches mainstream, so there's no reason Apple should be hemmed into making just wrist-mounted wearables. 

And with the future of Apple Glasses still blurry, there's no reason smart fabrics can't be the next hot venture for the company. I'd love to see Apple's take on the mackintosh coat; it would be a whole new take on the iMac....

Most likely, these smart fabric buttons with capacitative touch would first materialize on woven MacBook keyboards, Apple Watch bands or haptic gloves that accompany iPhones and mixed media headsets. I'm personally hoping for a smart shirt loaded up with fitness sensors, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see. 

If any company has the brand loyalty, ecosystem and billions of dollars to make smart fashion trendy, it's Apple.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.