It has been widely speculated that Apple is working on an iOS based smartwatch, unofficially dubbed the ‘iWatch‘.
Interestingly, a new patent application discovered by AppleInsider reveals that Apple is indeed working on a wearable accessory with a full-length flexible touchscreen display.
The patent application which was filed in August 2011 describes how the device can be easily worn on a user’s wrist with a “slap bracelet” mechanism. The patent application refers to the device as a “wearable video device.”
The most recent widespread use of such a device was the slap bracelet, also called the slap wrap. The slap bracelet consists of layered flexible steel bands sealed within a fabric cover. Typical slap bracelets are roughly one inch in width by nine inches in length. In a first equilibrium position they can be flat. The second equilibrium is typically reached by slapping the flat embodiment across the wrist, at which point the bracelet curls around the wrist and stays relatively secure in a roughly circular position.
According to the patent application, the device consists of layered flexible steel bands sealed within a fabric cover with a screen glued to the outer surface. The necessary electronic components such as wireless communications antenna, integrated circuits for driving the display, along with data and power connectors etc. can be glued to one end of the device, so that the other end could completely cover the electronics module while a user wears it.
The display appears to be made up of a series of flexible segments, which would allow the device to change between a flat state and a curled state. The device uses a sensor to detect a change between the two states and then adjusts the user interface to optimize it for the new bi-stable spring state. It also describes how the capacitive elements on the touchscreen will allow the device to determine where the end of the device comes in contact with the touchscreen so that it can deactivate the covered portion of the flexible display and can properly configure the continuous display around the device.
The device’s screen has a “touch-sensitive user interface” overlaid on the flexible display. The patent application describes how a user can accomplish a number of different tasks including adjusting the order of a current playlist, and reviewing a list of recent phone calls with the touchscreen display. It also explains how a response to a text message can be managed with a simple virtual keyboard across the face of the flexible display.
The device can also come with a inertial orientation sensor, such as a gyroscope, or accelerometer so that displayed information can be arranged such that it always faces up, or directly towards the user. In the power saving mode, the inertial orientation sensor could also be used to activate the flexible display only when the device is oriented into a viewing position.
The patent also explains how information could be passed between the device to another device such as the iPhone:
The method includes the following steps: (1) determining whether the accessory device is being worn by an end-user where the determining is accomplished by at least one sensor on the accessory device; (2) when it determined the accessory device is being worn by the end user, establishing a communication channel between the accessory device and the portable electronic device where the communication channel is arranged to provide a bi-directional communication link between the flexible display and the portable electronic device; (3) passing information between the portable electronic device and the accessory device by way of the bi-directional communication link, where at least a portion of the passed information is presented by the flexible display as the first set of visual information; and (4) displaying the first set of visual information by the flexible display.
It is usually a pain to go through patent applications, but I really enjoyed going through the details of this one. Some aspects of the device seem too futuristic to believe such a device will be launched anytime soon, but with Apple you never know.
Let me know what do you think in the comments below.