According to a graphic from a comprehensive patent granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple was considering smartwatch features and construction in 2011 under the moniker “iTime.” Although the smartwatch computer rumored to be announced by Apple this fall probably won’t resemble this patent, the document does reveal a lot of new and interesting smartwatch concepts.
Apple filed for the patent in 2011 and it was granted on Tuesday. Although patents never guarantee that their holders will make products that resemble the patented concepts, US Patent number 008787006 covers a dizzying array of features, from a smart wristband that incorporates a central electronic computer to a wrist-mounted dock that allows interchangeable modules to be snapped into it. A lot of the graphics allude to Apple’s square touchscreen iPod Nano, which was the current version at the time the patent was filed.
The document mentions several sensors embedded in the device’s wristband, including accelerometers, GPS modules, haptic feedback, proximity detectors, “biometric,” and NFC antennas. Remember that some reports have pointed to 10 or more sensors being included in Apple’s final design.
Although Apple’s wearable bracelet rumored to come out this fall has been expected to have a health focus, it’s not a stretch to imagine Apple using an on-board accelerometer to invent new gesture controls. I would be surprised if there wasn’t at least a few new gesture features when the iWatch is eventually announced. From the application:
For example, the gesture might be a horizontal movement for one user input option (e.g., decline incoming call), and might be a vertical movement for another user input option (e.g., accept incoming call). For example, the gesture might be a single shake (or bounce, tap, etc.) of the user’s wrist for one user input option (e.g., accept incoming call), and might be a pair of shakes (or bounces, taps, etc.) for another user input option (e.g., decline incoming call).
Apple invents and patents lots of ideas, but very few make it to market, and almost none go on sale in a form that closely resembles the patent application. For instance, on Tuesday, Apple was granted 40 other patents in addition to this one. Plus, although the patent was granted today, it’s already kind of dated: of the three inventors are listed on the patent, Albert Golko, Mathias Schmidt, and Felix Alvarez, only Golko is presently working at Apple. (The other two currently work at Google, according to LinkedIn.)
Even the name iTime could be — almost certainly is — a red herring. Before the iPad was announced, many believed it was going to be named iSlate, for instance. Bottom line: An Apple patent filed in 2011 guarantees nothing about Apple’s smartwatch plans, except that a sensor-laden wrist computer has been under consideration in Cupertino for quite a while.