At the final AllThingsD conference last May, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he saw wearables as “a very key branch of the tree,” adding “I think the wrist is interesting. The wrist is natural.”
Since then, there’s been a flurry of rumours about what Apple’s potential smartwatch might look like or do, but nobody really knows for sure. However, a new patent published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (via PatentlyApple and AppleInsider), which describes an electronic device called “iTime,” might offer some hints at what we’ll see when the iWatch launches later this year.
Following in line with previous reports, the iTime patent — filed to the USPTO in 2011 but published on Tuesday — describes a wrist device that can connect with other Apple portables like iPhones and iPads. But while many are expecting a smart watch, much of this patent describes an advanced wristband system, where a “central electronic device” is “removably secured” to the wrist strap.
This might mean the iWatch’s display could be removed at any given time, similar to the way the sixth-generation iPod nano could act as a wristwatch. (The patent, as AppleInsider notes, even mentions the iPod nano by name.)
According to the patent, the watch’s straps would contain most of the sensors and other circuitry needed to bolster performance of the device, including accelerometers, WiFi and cellular packages, GPS modules, and haptic feedback mechanisms. But the wristband would also be able to interact with what Apple describes as a “personal wireless environment,” which allows the device to exchange information with nearby cellular- or internet-connected devices like iDevices and Mac computers.
One embodiment of the patent shows how the watch could receive notifications from a nearby phone, and then alert the user with some form of audio, visual or haptic feedback, which would likely be a wrist vibration. At that point, the notification can be addressed directly on the watch by interacting with the display or through audio feedback via a set of headphones or “system speakers,” meaning the iWatch may come with a built-in microphone.
The wristband, according to the patent, can also tell the user when it’s out of range with one’s iPhone, which is likely accomplished with Bluetooth 4.0, though the patent does not mention that particular technology.
In another embodiment of the iTime patent, the wristband wouldn’t need to connect with any additional devices, as the display would provide all of the additional components needed to sense and communicate with the environment.
The end of the patent describes potential smartwatch gestures, where one could control their iWatch by shaking, bouncing, or tapping. One may also assign a combination of those gestures to control certain actions on the device. For example, one could shake their wrist once to answer a phone call, or shake twice and tap once to decline the call.
The patent credits Albert Golko, Mathias Schmidt and Felix Alvarez as the inventors. Two of those three authors — Schmidt and Alvarez — currently work for Google (Schmidt works as a product designer for Nest Labs, which is owned by Google). The third author, Golko, works within Apple’s product development team for the iPod and iPhone.
Another Apple patent published last February described a flexible display that conforms to one’s wrist, similar to a “slap bracelet,” consisting of “layered flexible steel bands sealed within a fabric cover.” That patent also described the device’s ability to communicate with mobile devices, even at a basic level, and solar panels — known as “ambient light collectors” — on the watch to boost the device’s battery life.
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