If you keep your iPhone in a case, as most people do, you’ll know that volume and power buttons can lose their nice definitive clicking sensation, and instead feel rather squishy. That’s a problem Apple thinks it can solve …

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The patent (spotted by Patently Apple) is for a pretty simple magnet-based solution. The background section describes the problem.

Electronic devices are often designed with precise predetermined factors and standard to ensure consistency in user experience. It has become increasingly common for an electronic device to be coupled with an accessory such as a case. An accessory can provide additional benefits in the form of protection, improved appearance, and/or additional functionalities. However, an accessory may also change the operation of the electronic device and sometimes alter the user experience and feeling of the electronic device.

This paper describes various embodiments related to devices, systems and methods that retain the original tactile feeling of a button after an electronic device is coupled to an accessory that might change the tactile feeling of the button.

Apple’s proposed solution is, of course, written in patent-eze.

An electronic device, comprising: a housing; an actuator unit carried by the housing; and a tactile compensation unit coupled with the actuator unit, wherein at least a threshold actuation force to the actuator unit depresses the actuator unit, the threshold actuation force defining a minimum force to depress the actuator unit, and wherein the tactile compensation unit includes a triggering unit that forms a magnetic circuit with a triggering magnetic element carried by an accessory device that covers the actuator unit and provides an alteration to the threshold application force, the tactile compensation unit providing, in response to the formation of the magnetic circuit, a compensation force that compensates for the alteration to maintain the threshold actuation force.

But the idea, as seen in the drawing below, is to have a magnet inside the button depression of the case. When you press the outside of the case, the magnet clicks against the button itself, creating a precise tactile click which simulates the feel of the naked button.

iPhone case button

As with all Apple patents, there’s no way to tell whether or not the company will ever implement the idea, but this could be a way for it to give its own cases an advantage over third-party ones which are generally considerably cheaper.


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