Since the old iWatch rumor reared its head again in December, there have been a few more reliable sources adding weight to the idea that we could see a smart watch from Apple this year. Over the weekend, The New York Times, which said essentially the same thing in 2011, followed up the rumors with a report that Apple is working on a curved glass watch prototype running iOS. The Wall Street Journal quickly followed with more information, claiming Apple and partner Foxconn are now testing wearable, watch-like devices.
While many have speculated what Apple might include in an iWatch, such as Apple employee #66 and founder of Apple’s Human Interface Group Bruce Tognazzini, all we get from reports is “curved glass” and “iOS”. Apple has clearly been testing wearable prototypes with several patents dating as far back as 2009, describing potential integration with wristwatches and iOS devices. By taking a look at the technology for watches that Apple is already experimenting with through the many publicly available patents, we put together a list of some of the features the company could very well include in an Apple-branded smart watch.
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Sensors: The first patent we look at was published just today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and detailed by UnwiredView. While Apple mentioned devices other than wristwatches in the patent application, it fits in nicely with Tognazzini’s concept of a watch that constantly measures your vital signs for health and fitness applications. The patent goes over various applications for integrating sensors into a wristwatch form factor that could collect data, for example, from a runner or surfer:
“… an accelerometer, one of a strain gauge, force-sensing resistor, piezoelectric strip, humidity or temperature sensor, EKG sensing device, weight-sensing detector, and chemical detector” They will be used to continuously watch and record your movement, heart rate, pulse, pressure, stress etc; and measure temperature, humidity, chemicals, environmental factors and hazardous conditions around you. All this captured data transmitted to what Apple calls an “interrogation device” (ID). This could be your iPhone, iPod or iWatch which connects to the sensor network on you via secure RF links. Apple thinks about putting MMDs and EMDs everywhere
LiquidMetal: When it comes to how an iWatch might look, there is much debate about whether it would go the iPod nano route or instead take design cues from a more traditional watch. One possibility is LiquidMetal. Apple has been patenting a lot of technologies and manufacturing processes related to using LiquidMetal in different form factors since acquiring rights to the amorphous metal alloys. We also already saw the material used before in high-end watches (video above), but have not seen the highly versatile material make a major contribution to Apple’s product lines.
Solar: Another possibility for Apple’s smart watch comes from a patent awarded last week for an integrated touch sensor and solar panel. Wireless charging has been brought up as something that could help Apple stand out from the competition with its watch, but Apple also has many patents that could allow it to integrate a solar panel directly into the display. This is of course also something that we could see in other iOS devices.
Curved glass: According to The New York Times most recent report, Apple’s smart watch will succeed where others haven’t largely due to its process of using curved glass. Apple has several patents that cover unique processes for curving glass in mobile devices. The most recent was published in December and others earlier last year. The concept in the image at the top of this article imagined a curved 2.5-inch OLED—something that looks quite like drawings from a patent published in September. Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t seem too keen on OLED, but Apple did just pick up OLED expert James Lee from LG.
Cellular: Most seem to think Apple’s iWatch would be a device that talks to other iOS devices for the majority of tasks. That could very well be the case, but will a watch from Apple also function as a standalone device for calls and data? One of Apple’s patents granted last year described a microstrip cellular antenna that could be integrated into a wristwatch and other metal housings. A similar patent also popped up this week.
Watchstrap: Apple could go with a high quality LiquidMetal for the watch’s strap, but it could also have a huge market in inexpensive, interchangeable watchstraps like it did with the sixth-generation iPod nano. According to the Wall Street Journal, Foxconn and Apple have tested watch prototypes. One patent coming from Foxconn gave us a look at a watchstrap that integrates a way to store headphones and an extra battery in the strap itself (pictured above).
Other wearable devices: A watch form factor isn’t the only wearable device that Apple has covered in patent applications. Recently Apple filed a patent for high-resolution display technology that could be implemented into a Google Glass-like HUD form factor.