Patent Tips Apple's iWatch Hand
Apple's "iWatch" or "iTime" or whatever it ends up being named very likely will have something smartwatches currently in the market don't have. That special something is still hidden in Cupertino. However, it better not have something all the others do have -- that is, a big and ugly form factor. Even more than getting the functionality right, Apple fans are counting on the company to get the design right.
A patent awarded on Tuesday to Apple may be a tip-off of what the company is planning for the smartwatch it's widely expected to introduce this fall.
The patent (U.S. Patent 8,787,006) for something Apple referenced in its application as "iTime" is for an electronic wristband that contains a recessed area for an electronic device, such as a watch body.
After Apple introduced its diminutive media player -- the nano -- similar wristbands appeared in the market for that device. However, the iTime band would be bristling with more power.
The iTime could feed and display information gathered from sensors in the band on a pop-in electronic device, for example.
The band also could support haptic, or vibrating, alerts and display notifications from other devices -- phones, tablets and computers -- on the pop-in iTime device.
Other kinds of information could be displayed on the iTime device, too, such as incoming calls, text messages, and news from social media feeds. In addition, applications in other devices could be controlled from iTime.
The device also could be used to keep tabs on a smartphone. It could alert its wearer when a phone became out of range of iTime, for example.
iTime also would support gesture commands. For instance, shakes or wrist gestures could be used to answer or reject phone calls.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story, and it has been mum about its smartwatch plans. However, it did take legal dibs on "iWatch" last year, and Wall Street analysts are treating the introduction of the product as a fait accompli.
For instance, Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley has predicted iWatch will be priced at $300 and sell 30 to 60 million units -- more than the original iPhone and in the same ballpark as the original iPad.
Can't Be Ugly
There's been no shortage of speculation about the display of the iWatch, which some say will be announced in November or December and go on sale early next year. Screen sizes range from a large 2.5-inch curved OLED display to 1.6 and 1.8 inches.
Sapphire will be an option on the watch, according to some Apple watchers. Sapphire is a super hard material and practically scratch proof.
It's also expected to support a number of health, wellness and fitness applications -- some from Apple, others from developers taking advantage of the new HealthKit hooks in the next version of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system.
Whatever features an iWatch will have, there's one thing many market watchers believe it must not have -- clunkiness.
"They need to bring out something that's not big and ugly," Gartner Vice President for Mobility Van L. Baker told TechNewsWorld.
"Every smartwatch that I've seen is big and ugly," he said, "and if you think any woman would ever put that on her wrist, you're sadly mistaken."
Keys to Success
Meeting higher aesthetic standards for a smartwatch should not be a problem for Apple, given its design chops.
"A lot of what's out there in smartwatches is for tech lovers, early adopters, looking geeky," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
"They look more like a technological device than a piece of jewelry," she told TechNewsWorld. "Design is definitely something users will expect from Apple."
They also expect Apple to push the envelope for a smartwatch. The current crop of smartwatches make interacting with other devices more convenient, but they don't really change that interaction, Milanesi noted.
"Apple needs to take that further," she said. "It needs to be not just convenient but to become a must-have for consumers. Smartwatches now are a nice-to-have, not a must-have."
As if making a smartwatch beautiful and essential weren't challenging enough for Apple, it may face another formidable obstacle to success.
"It has to reestablish demand for watches, which has fallen off as a lot of consumers use their phones for traditional watch features," Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, told TechNewsWorld.
"Apple's smartwatch also has to be more compelling than what we've seen to date from Samsung and others," he said.