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Summary:

It could certainly be argued that the iPhone has sparked a new revolution of multi-touch capable mobiles phones and handheld devices. iPhone-esque phones seem to be rearing their heads every day, all sharing one common problem; they don’t recognize a tap from a gloved finger. For […]

It could certainly be argued that the iPhone has sparked a new revolution of multi-touch capable mobiles phones and handheld devices. iPhone-esque phones seem to be rearing their heads every day, all sharing one common problem; they don’t recognize a tap from a gloved finger.

For many users in warm climates this simply isn’t a problem, though Apple fans in the northern hemisphere struggle on a daily basis. In the UK, I find gloves to be an issue for only a few months of the year. That short period, however, is enough to make me realize that if the weather was cold for any length of time I’d be thoroughly disgruntled.

What’s the Problem?

The problem surrounds the fact that the iPhone’s multi touch screen relies upon the electrical response from your fingertips. Gloves, unsurprisingly, prevent the electrical charge from passing through to the screen.

You are therefore required to remove a glove whenever you need to send a message or check email. Not an earth shattering problem, sure, but a regular inconvenience on a cold day.

The Proposed Solution

There are a few gloves on the market which aim to allow the electrical current from your fingertips to pass through the material. These work with varied results, and often simply rely on having a thinner layer of material at the fingertip.

Apple’s patent (filed the day before the iPhone’s launch in June 2007) details a glove with a thin, electrically conductive, “anti-sticky” inner layer. This second layer is able to function with a capacitive touchscreen, passing the charge from your finger to an iPhone. The filed images also seem to imply the possibility of openings for fingertips which could peel back to allow direct contact.

The patent filing is credited to Steven Hotelling and Ashwin Sunder, two inventors who I’m sure originate from an icy country in the northern hemisphere.

I have huge doubts that Apple will announce any form of ‘iPhone Glove’ at Macworld. While the iPhone has proved itself as a remarkably fashionable consumer electronic device, moving from fashionable hardware to fashionable glove-wear is a large and risky step to take. A more likely theory is that Apple filed the patent on the off-chance that there would be significant criticism for the iPhone not working with gloves — criticism which has never seemed to be apparent.

Other Methods

Of course, rather than any magical Apple glove, you do have the option of simply taking scissors to an old pair. While maybe looking like a muppet in public, you’ll no longer have the risk of permanent finger frostbite.

A form of stylus can also alleviate this problem, with a variety of different ones already available for the iPhone.

It would certainly be fascinated to see what form a glove designed by Jonathan Ive could take. While I have complete confidence that they’d immediately become a must-have iPhone fashion accessory, the likelihood of Apple following the patent through with a real product seems reasonably unlikely.

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  1. isn’t there a product already available? i thought i read sth like this before…

    EDIT: aaaah here it is: http://www.tuaw.com/2008/09/19/use-your-iphone-and-keep-your-hands-warm/

  2. I was at a North Face store a few nights ago and noticed their new ETIP gloves, which claim “Laptop and MP3 player click-wheel functionality”… I had my iPhone with me and tried them on. They worked pretty well for basic taps on larger elements on the screen (so they’d work fine for making a call or checking email) but typing was terribly inaccurate and would probably take some practice. Admittedly, I didn’t try typing in landscape mode, which might have gone a little better. Nice to see an actual glove manufacturer taking steps in the right direction with this!

  3. There are also various takes on ‘sailor’s gloves’, which have either no fore-finger and thumb tips, or removable ones.

    I bought a pair of Freehands, which have fold back tips on forefinger and thumb. Not bad. Not ideal, but not bad. I generally am only reading, so I can have just one digit exposed…and I can rotate amongst the four (2 left/right) digits to maintain some semblance of warmth.

    Oh, and being a smoker (I know, I know), I can minimize damage to the gloves by holding the butt with bare fingertips.

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