Apple has a number of patents on wearable computing, but a new application spotted by AppleInsider blends some old and some new tech to provide a vision of what it might conceivably look like as a shipping product. The patent in question describes a wrist-mounted flexible screen, built on a support structure that closely resembles the “slap bracelets” children of the nineties will likely recall. When worn, the screen could provide an unbroken display that wraps all the way around the wearer’s wrist.
Apple even uses the slap bracelet directly as an example of how the device would work in its patent filing. Besides provoking nostalgia in people my age, the design would make it possible to use the device in both curled (worn) and flattened forms, acting as a different kind of display in either scenario. When on the wrist, Apple describes a sensor that would allow the watch to recognize where the end is, so that it can manage universal sizing while still wrapping a display around the wrist without any overlapping visuals.
The patent describes some software functionality, which begins to get at what an Apple iWatch might offer that others building smart watches can’t or don’t yet do. It could be used to “adjust the order of a current playlist,” review “a list of recent phone calls,” type out a message reply via a “simple virtual keyboard configuration across the face of the flexible display.” Apple even suggests using it as an input device for controlling and navigating apps like Maps. If you had trouble conceiving how an iWatch might actually revolutionize wearable computing, this patent’s description of features begins to answer that.
Apple’s patent describes making use of solar power and kinetic energy to help prolong battery life, and it includes provisions for a number of other ways to affix it to a user’s wrist, including snaps and velcro, meaning the slap bracelet look could give way to something much more in keeping with traditional watch design. But what’s most interesting is the functionality described in the patent: it shows how Apple, working with its own hardware and software in ways that third-party manufacturers aren’t able to could greatly extend the usefulness of a wrist-mounted, smartphone connected device.
The iWatch is rumored to be in production, with reports from Bloomberg, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal all surfacing recently. We’ve seen iWatch-related patents before, including ones that describe elements of this slap bracelet system, but this is the most complete patent to date and the timing feels more than coincidental as a result.