It's been quite the year for Apple patents. My particular highlight was the company calling dibs on a paper bag. What will likely be the last patents we hear of this year from the iPhone maker are the rather unusual combination of a "mechanically actuated panel acoustic system", "woven displays" and a partridge in a pear tree. The last one is a joke. CHRISTMAS.
So what exactly is a "mechanically actuated panel acoustic system", asides from being something that sounds like an optional extra in a luxury German automobile? Well, according to the breakdown of the patents from Apple Insider, it is an "audio solution that creates sound through the direct vibration of sub-panels in a substantially flat arrangement", whatever that means.
Luckily the site also explains it in terms that humans can understand. A traditional dynamic speaker uses a large diapragm (usually conical in shape) and an attached voice coil wire that is positioned in a frame adjacent to a large permanent magnet. Current goes to the coil which creates a magnetic field, the large magnet then pushes and pulls the attached diaphragm, that oscilating action is interpreted by onboard audio signal conversion components, and Bob's your uncle: sound.
Micro speakers, like those in Apple products, operate in the same way in a teeny tiny form. Voice coils integrated with panel-like diaphragms and small permanent magnets make up a self-contained system. The problem with those though is that in order to make the speakers louder you risk distortion, which is where this new patent comes in.
What it looks to do is advance the panel-style speaker by dividing it into smaller sub-panels which are designed to act as individual diaphragms. Essentially, what this does is give each sub-panel a differenct resonant frequency and highly accurate acoustics. In theory this will mean that Apple's speakers could be capable of high-definition sound in a relatively small space – such as an iPad or a MacBook – and would enable to make these devices even more compact.
This is different to the speaker layout introduced in Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro which employs foud "self-balancing" micro speakers.
Now, the "woven display".
This one is a bit easier to grasp for the layman. A "woven display" is a method by which light-transmissive materials are interwoven into conventional textiles. When connected to LEDs or another light source, these light pipe fibers can render computer generated imagery. The first potential Apple device that jumps to mind for this is the Watch where additional information could be displayed on the strap on top of what's already on the device's diminuative display.
The patent image shown below however envisions a strap for what looks like an iPad showing the time.
As we say with every patent story, the chances of these concepts actually ever making it to the production line are very slim, but it gives us an idea into what's going on in the heads of the designers at Apple.