Apple experimenting with an iWatch, secures solar touchscreen patent

Apple experimenting with an iWatch, secures solar touchscreen patent

Summary: According to reports, Apple is exploring the possibility of manufacturing wearable devices running on iOS, and Steve Jobs had even toyed with the idea of making an Apple car.

TOPICS: Hardware, Apple

As Google continues to develop its glasses ecosystem, Apple has reportedly set its sights on a wristwatch and a new patent suggests it may have solar-cell answer to the power consumption constraints such a device would face.

Lunatik watch
Apple is reportedly interested in developing wearable iOS devices. Above: the Lunatik watch, which places an iPod Nano on the wearer's wrist.Image: Minimal

Apple is "experimenting with wristwatch-like devices", the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing people familiar with Apple's tests.

The devices would be made of curved glass and, not surprisingly, run on iOS, the paper said.

Apple has discussed such a device with its key manufacturer Foxconn, the Wall Street Journal reported in a follow-up piece.

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A wrist watch could make a lot of sense in the context of Apple's search for way to deliver products that are more accessible in lower income markets, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a report last month, the Times notes. Rumours circulated earlier this year that Apple was looking at plastic to bring the cost of an iPhone down to between $99 and $250

How far off Apple is from actually delivering the wearable device is not known, but both reports highlight that how much progress is being made on the hardware that would be necessary for such devices to make it to market.

For example, Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass screens used in the iPhone, has made a thick bendable glass screen called Willow Glass, while Apple supplier Foxconn has been working on equipment with lower power requirements.

Apple may have its own energy solution to the power constraints a watch running iOS may face. The US Patents and Trademark on 5 February granted Apple patent No. 8,368,654 for "Integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations".

The solar patent would introduce optical sensing capabilities to the screen as a means to interact with it and to boost its energy generating capacity.

"The integrated touch sensor array and solar cell stack-ups may include electrodes that are used both for collecting solar energy and for sensing on a touch sensor array. By integrating both the touch sensors and the solar cell layers into the same stack-up, surface area on the portable device may be conserved. In addition to being used for capacitive sensing, the integrated touch sensor and solar panel configurations may also be used for optical sensing," Apple notes in the patent.

The patent adds: "When an approaching object, such as a finger, is detected the solar panel may switch to a capacitive sensing mode to more precisely locate the object. Alternatively, the solar panel may cycle between solar power/optical sensing mode and capacitive sensing mode."

As well as a watch, Apple may also have been looking at other hardware avenues. According to the Times, Steve Jobs told one of the paper's journalists before his death that he would have liked the company to make a car "if he had more energy".

Topics: Hardware, Apple

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • I have had bare wrists since before Y2K, and I LIKE IT THAT WAY!

    I'm not interested.

    My cell phone is my watch. Its even accurate to the nanosecond. Why would I want another gadget to do the same thing?
    • I agree with you

      I wear a watch only while traveling abroad. If I could get a watch that does everything my phone does, than maybe I will switch back to a watch from a phone
    • Then why bother

      to comment on something you'll never use? Personally I've used a wristwatch for most of my life and rarely use my iPhone to check the time - even though it's much more accurate of a timepiece. Now if this Apple watch is inexpensive and fairly durable I may consider it a replacement for my Casio.
      • RE: "if this Apple watch is inexpensive and fairly durable ..."

        With Apple, an iWatch will surely be expensive. However, it's durability is certain to outlast iOS upgrades.

        P.S. Currently, computer watches are niche products. For example, diving, swimming, bicycling, etc. Apple has an opportunity to make a computer watch for ordinary folks (with a lot of money and/or Apple love). I would also expect to see connectivity with both OS X and other iOS devices. And why not pocket watches as well as wrist watches? Could be very cool.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
    • "iWatch" rumours go for years, and still nothing happened; so do not worry

      ... yet. And even if Apple will release something like that, they are not going to force it on you.

      As to solar panel patent, Apple has a lots of such already. This is nothing new to them and you can not really derive anything about Apple's plans from it.
    • Back to the (steampunk) future?

      This is an ironic cultural development, going back to the pocket watch. Historically, men carried a watch up to 5cm in diameter and 1cm in thickness in a special pocket. World War I started the transition to wrist watches and World War II sealed it; soldiers needed to check the time in order to coordinate assaults, while keeping both hands on their weapons or their vehicle steering.

      If anyone likes the idea of pulling out a phone whenever they want the time, they do not need wristwatches. But I suspect that someday when your hands are full and you are not in a room with a clock, you may wish you could look at your wrist to get the time.

      Incidentally, there were ancient rumors that Alexander the Great got Archimedes to create the chemical equivalent of a wristwatch, by soaking a wet cloth in a mixture of plant juice extracts that changed color gradually over a period of several hours, and by looking at the wristband he could estimate how much fighting time was left in the day. It was called ... Alexander's rag time-band! ;)
      • There are clocks everywhere

        Nice comments. However, there are clocks everywhere, in you car's dash, on the walls and your computers too. I would say you do not require a watch anywhere, except when you are flying across time zones or going on a hiking trip in a foreign country where your cell phone does not work. I still do wear a watch whenever I have to travel abroad. If the watch can really replace my cell phone, then so be it.
        • Wrong.

          There are not "clocks everywhere".
      • It's as much about style as function...

        You mean something like this?
        Personally, I would love to have something like this-
        Spiny Normandy
      • Went back to a watch a year ago

        "Alexander's rag time-band! " Ha!

        But seriously, I started wanting a decent watch for a couple reasons: I got a nice new suit, and I thought it was tacky to pull out a cell phone when dressed up; and at work, we don't carry cell phones around anymore (for my job, they're not needed anyway), and I was tired of not knowing what time it was.

        So, now, I've got two solar-powered, atomic clock-sync'ed watches -- a dressy Citizen and a G-Shock. I tried the iPod Nano-on-a-watchband, and while it's a cool trinket, it's a terrible watch. It's not waterproof, and you can't just look at the time one-handed. Citizen, on the other hand, has just brought out a solid watch (water resistant, analog face, etc) that connects with an iPhone to notify the wearer of emails, calls, etc. That's cool, too, but the face itself is a cluttered mess, and it doesn't give a whole lot of detailed info anyway.

        Take the best aspects of both, though, and you just might have yourself a winner. Solar power (or, what about kinetic charging like Seiko has?), a properly rugged case, multifunction display, low-power Bluetooth 4.0... It could work well.

        It wouldn't surprise me at all if Apple is testing prototypes. We'll see if they like the idea enough to sell one.
    • Why do people need rings, necklaces, gem stones, etc...

      It's jewelry, it's for fashion. Just like everything else Apple makes.
  • Really????? Who are we Dick Tracy?

    Seriously, you can barely see things on a smartphone screen, what are you going to see on a wristwatch. This falls into the category of "Let's Do it because we can" without thinking about whether it will actually be useful or not.
    • That could be possible - when is the Q

      A cellphone in the pocket could transmit its signal to the watch, and thus allow you to communicate via the watch. That would be the first step before a watch-only cellphone takes place, I would offer.
      • They're available now

        and not that popular by all accounts. How many people do you see using them?

        Of course, when apple release it, maybe the world will see a need for these companion devices.
        IMO, people want too much from a smartphone to ditch it for a 1" screen.
        Little Old Man
    • +1

      Optometrists will be driving Ferraris. Mine has already noted how many kids she treats who already have jacked up eyesight.

      AAPL needs a new product line - this isn't it.
      beau parisi
    • But the tech geeks and Apple Failthful will buy these 2 at a time

      so it's a win for Apple no matter what.
      William Farrel
      • Not so sure about tech geeks

        as the companion type watches are already out there and still appear to be a novelty.

        You're probably right about the apple faithful though.
        Little Old Man
    • You can barely see things on a smartphone screen?

      Then get a tablet, note, or go back to a feature phone. It's not like this watch is going to take the place of a smartphone or tablet - IOW it likely won't play visual media. I can see it as something that would be an auxiliary device to the smartphone able to connect with it via bluetooth and it being used in a "Dick Tracy" style as a wrist mounted bluetooth headset.
      • As you grow older

        You find it tough to see things on a smart phone.
        • Indeed

          My comment was a bit on the snarky side... However I find the person I replied to rather short sighted - an observation that has nothing to do with his or her eyesight but everything to do with his or her perceptions and attitudes as displayed by the post I replied to.