You thought you knew everything there was to know about the Nexus 7? Well, you thought wrong. A curious owner of the device started doing what any totally rational person does with a brand-new tablet: expose it to magnetic forces. The results yielded an as-yet hidden feature in the Nexus 7, in the form a magnetic smart cover sensor. Simply take a magnet and put it up against the front or back of your Nexus 7 along the bottom left-hand side while in portrait mode with the display on, and you can see the effect for yourself. Or, you could just watch this video of our tipster doing it:

While Google does sell covers for the Nexus 7, it's unclear if they support this feature (though ASUS does call it a "smart cover" here). It would be a little odd, given they open from right to left, and the magnetic sensor is on the left side. Still, it's entirely possible. We've confirmed it on our own I/O Nexus 7s, so this is definitely legit.

The iPad has its Smart Cover since the iPad 2, and it seems a similar functionality will be present on Microsoft's Surface tablet. Apple does have a patent for its Smart Cover magnetic system, but it's not a very broad one.

Reviewing Apple's patent on its Smart Cover, it seems to be rather narrowly tailored in form and function for the Smart Cover and iPad mechanism specifically, and focuses more on its ability to latch onto the host device rather than turning its display off and on. There is talk of "useful functionality" being added by the cover, but based on the patent language, that seems to still fall only within Apple's particular design and mechanism - not in general. So, it's entirely possible (even likely) Google and ASUS's design here isn't sufficiently similar to infringe - but we don't know. That's the kind of question that only a teardown, an engineer, and a patent lawyer can fully answer.

Thanks Wes!

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Joshua Sutton

    Patented by Apple yet?

    • http://profiles.google.com/neotechni Techni Myoko

      RIM, actually.

      • http://indonewyork.com IndoNewYork

        and Apple will still go on and sue both RIM and Google

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Timm-Eddy/880640297 Timm Eddy

    Thanks i dont have mine yet jerks!

  • Mike

    Time for another Apple lawsuit.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      See update above.

    • ssj4Gogeta

      Not at all. Magnet-activated switches are nothing new. That's exactly what's used in your laptop to shut the screen/sleep/hibernate when you close the lid.


      "invented at Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1936 by W. B. Ellwood"

      Maybe they can sue over the design if it's very similar, but I don't see how they could sue over the mechanism itself, because it's just like laptop lids and it's used in a ton of other devices.

      • http://profiles.google.com/ejsu28 E.J. Su

        Slide to unlock was nothing new either, that never stops Apple.

        • hot_spare

          You mean this is not new??

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=57902506 Jason Brian Chapa

    BlackBerry was doing this long before Apple.

    • http://profiles.google.com/neotechni Techni Myoko


    • str8loungin


    • battousai

      And that matters not, Apple will just claim to have invented magnets...

      • SamsaraGuru

        Ain't it the truth!

        But, after all, takes less brain power and effort to claim you invented something than to actually invent something you have to admit; and even less brainpower to sue in the hopes of intimidating.

      • http://www.Mikereviews.co.uk/ Mike Brown

        They did invent it. They also invented phones. And computers. And the wheel. and homosexuality. And glass.

  • sahilm

    If Apple sues over this, I'd honestly support Apple. As much as I love the Android community, this is a blatant ripoff, if they actually announce Smart Covers (or whatever they decide to call it).

    When Smart Covers came out, it was an innovative idea. I think in this case, and this is one of the very few cases, where I would support an Apple attack.

    (The usual disclaimer: I don't have an iPhone, I have a GNex, and am against Apple's attacks on the GNex)

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Apple doesn't have the patent on the magnetic part of the Smart Cover.

    • http://twitter.com/AthoraX athorax

      "Smart Covers" were in no way innovative on apples part. Numerous smart phones, including Blackberrys, have used magnetic holsters long before apple did. Apple just saw what worked for a phone and put it on a tablet cover.

      • ocdtrekkie

        The original Droid used magnetic sensors to detect docks and stuff.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000788524064 Daniel Lamando

          And still do. One polarity for a car dock, the other for a desk dock.

      • http://twitter.com/gflare gflare

        Exactly. Apple just "innovated" the smart cover idea that blackberries had used for years. Back in those days, it really was pretty cool to toss your phone in a pouch and it would turn off the screen / lock the device.

    • Goldenpins

      also there's a company that has a similar design as apple's smart cover . Cant remember the name but it was being used as an example to show it wasnt anything new.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1359390083 Sodiq Awokoya

      smart covers was not a innovative idea, they made it practical idea taken from other ideas that was out in the market. I had a blackberry 8310 that when put in the pouch it will turn off due to the magnets in the pouch, apple did not even magnets go sit down somewhere when the big boys talk.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    As per David's update:
    "It's probably worth noting that this is the only Android tablet we've ever seen with this feature. Apple does have a patent on the design of the smart cover itself, but apparently not on the magnetic mechanism through which it functions. So, it seems at this point there's no reason Apple will have anything to go after here."

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii
    • marcusmaximus04

      Note that that patent is pretty damn specific(unlike most Apple patents we've seen recently). This would absolutely need to have multiple magnets in the Nexus 7 of differing polarities, arranged in a specific order to infringe.

      • http://www.facebook.com/duckofdeath Hans Pedersen

        Though, it could be as simple as there are prior arts for magnetic locks on covers. It wouldn't be the first time Apple patent an idea they've borrowed from someone else.

    • http://twitter.com/gflare gflare

      it would be cool if they used this for smart slip pouches, just like blackberry did in the beginning. I've always preferred cases like the Sena slip covers for my devices

  • http://twitter.com/TheTechChat TheTechChat

    Apple shouldn't be able to patent the mere idea of using a magnet in such a way, but rather a specific mechanism for doing so.

  • Jeff Alberda

    Probably general purpose, like dock magnet etc.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    ASUS's got balls to use the "smart cover" name verbatim: http://usa.asus.com/News/82X3sMt2tbBLf6xN.

    "For users who seek additional protection, Nexus 7 has an optional protective smart cover. The smart cover is a tough..."

    Brb, Costco, need more popcorn.

    • Perry Ahern

      Odd that they'd even do that when there's no functionality to the cover other than being tough, snug fitting, and non slip. It doesn't say anything about interacting with the device (such as with this magnetic sensor) so how is it a "smart cover"?

    • Joshua Sutton

      Part of Apple's patent clearly stated that the magnet was used to adhere to the device. The ASUS cover "fits snugly" around the entirety of the device. Hopefully that's enough differentiation to save them.

    • Dan

      The iPad Smart Cover is a named product. Asus is not making, selling, or promising a product called the Smart Cover or the Nexus 7 Smart Cover or the Asus Smart Cover. All they've done is correctly and accurately use the English language to describe their product which is a Nexus 7 cover that also happens to be smart.

      Can't. Stop. Laughing.

  • Perry Ahern

    The patent only describes using magnets to attach the cover, not as a method of turning the device on or off as is demonstrated in this video. The title of the patent is "Accessory device with magnetic attachment" and all of the text describes a very specific arrangement of multiple magnets in a specific arrangement, hinges, etc. The Nexus 7 seems to have a single spot that acts as a switch triggered by a single magnet. There aren't multiple magnets, they aren't used to attach the cover, and so on.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I agree with you that the mechanism described in the Apple patent is very specific, and unlikely to cover something like what we're seeing here. However, it's a common misconception that patent infringement involves the holistic theft of the invention described in the patent.

      It actually works quite differently - a patent is composed of various claims, Apple's patent here has around 20, if Google infringes any one of those, Apple can sue. Based on the fact that all the claims are dependent, though, you're probably right - this isn't sufficiently similar to what Apple describes to make much of an infringement question. My guess is that Apple patented the smart cover mechanism more than anything just as a statement - companies overpatent like crazy, and an idea that has to be that narrowly tailored to remain patentable has more value on a wall than it does in a courtroom.

  • http://twitter.com/Twitteninja ZZ

    Why was the notification shade activated when the magnet went across the top edge? Assuming its interference, that could also be the culprit of the screen turning on/and off. So rather than evidence of a sensor, it could be evidence of weak shielding across the device.

    Has anybody else been able to reproduce it by touching a magnet to the same spot?

    • ssj4Gogeta

      It doesn't seem to be interference. The unlock animation plays every time the screen goes on when he does that in the video. Which means something actually triggers the lock-unlock action. If just the display was affected, it'd probably resume displaying just what it was and wouldn't play the animation again.

    • wes

      I accidentally touched the screen at the top when I was looking for other sensors in the video.

    • wes

      I accidentally touched the screen at the top when I was looking for other sensors around the bezel

  • http://twitter.com/Darkmyth_pt Darkmyth PT

    Apple patented the magneto wolverine cyclops and some others

  • chaco

    The original transformer tablet tf101 does the same. The keyboard Dock has a magnet that triggers the screen to shut off when closed. Not surprising since they both made by asus

    • ssj4Gogeta

      So does almost every single laptop on the planet when you close the lid.

      • Kevin

        Lenovo, oddly, used a tiny switch near the hinges on Thinkpads up through the T61. I don't know about anything after that, as a T61p was the last Thinkpad I owned.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      That would make sense. Well, it's the first time we've seen it used this way on an Android tablet, at least.

  • micke gråborg

    Is it possible that the Infinity has this aswell? :)

  • Jake

    I don't see how the general idea of using a magnet to keep something closed could be patented by Apple. I have had numerous cases and bags with embedded magnets to keep the flap closed. My wife has purses with the same. Apple couldn't rightfully patent what a magnet does naturally. That would be like a patent for using water to make something wet.

  • Tyler Chappell

    The spec sheet from day one on the Google Play site has said it includes a magnetometer...

    • http://www.theandroidsite.com benmarvin

      Doesn't that refer to the compass? I've seen that spec listed on many phones and tablets before. Although many phones use a similar magnet sensor to put it into Car Home mode.

      • Tyler Chappell

        ah ok, I was actually wondering about that, thanks for the clarification.

  • http://www.theandroidsite.com benmarvin

    I love how half this article is about Apple, but fails to mention how Blackberry phones were doing this back in the 90's.

    • http://profiles.google.com/neotechni Techni Myoko

      As is the case for everything Apple (and Nintendo) claims to invent

  • http://www.facebook.com/knaprig.njure Johan Lindström

    Wouldn't it be better to skip the slide-to-unlock if this is going to be really useful?

    • tanknspank

      You can very easily disable the lock screen in the settings.

  • Tarek El-Ghazaly

    I'll be needing that Kickstand and type-cover asap, please.

  • Wayne Randall

    this is probably why the N7's cover is listed as "Coming Soon" and not "Shipping in", Goog is waiting to see what The Universe's Largest Known Troll responds.

  • mikeym0p

    Awesome, I was hoping they'd make a smartcover for the N7

  • Dude


  • http://twitter.com/morphelan Mark Phelan

    I'm not convinced this is for smart covers, seems to be on the wrong side for one thing. I'd be thinking more along the lines of dock mode activation hopefully for hdmi out since it's on the same side as the pogo pins and it shuts off the screen, might only be wishful thinking on my part but it makes more sense to me.

  • http://www.kayscase.com/ KaysCase

    I really like the discussion about the Apple patent. If this mechanism is a known method used by laptops since a while back, I don't think Google is infringing anything. They probably doesn't want to mention it, since people will inevitably think of iPad smart covers.

    Here's another video that shows, unlike iPad 3rd generation, both polarities of the magnet will trigger the sleep/wake function of Nexus 7.


  • perfectlyreasonabletoo

    You're confident this isn't intended for docks and such? It seems a little too close to lawsuit material.

  • skeeter

    where can I get one of these smart magnets? I have my nexus 7 mounted in the factory navigation location and I have to pull back the facing of the radio to wake it up again. I could really use one of these. If it is in fact a "special magnet"? Where? Where?