Apple 'slap wrap' patent fuels iWatch rumour

Apple 'slap wrap' patent fuels iWatch rumour

Summary: A 'slap wrap' flexible screen patent filed by Apple has added fuel to rumours about an iWatch.

TOPICS: Apple, iOS, Mobility, Patents

Apple filed a patent in 2011 for a wearable "slap wrap" device with a flexible screen, suggesting it has at least been experimenting with the design the rumoured iWatch.

The patent application filed with the US Patents and Trademarks Office in August 2011 is for a "bi-stable spring with flexible display" that can be positioned in a flat or curled state, much like a slap bracelet with the additional capacity for two-way communications between it and a portable electronic device.

The application, dug up by Apple Insider, contains drawings of several configurations of the concept, covering both rigid and flexible versions.

Apple patent
Image: US Patent Office/Apple

While recent reports about a curved glass face iWatch partially align with details in the application, the only actual mention of a watch is in reference to the potential use of kinetic energy as a backup power source — one of the key considerations behind launching such a device.

The most useful trait of the slap wrap bracelet design, according to Apple, is that it's easy to put on and stays conveniently in place. The design is very different to some recent mockups of what it could look like based on earlier patents that also suggested an iWatch.

The description suggests a touch screen wearable "video" device designed to work in conjunction with a separate device, such as an iPhone, to form a "co-operative electronic system" that would allow the wearer to remotely control that device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

"With a touchscreen user input 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. A response to a current text message can even be managed given a simple virtual keyboard configuration across the face of the flexible display.

"At a width of a few inches the display can function to temporarily view and manipulate the screen of the portable electronic device it is in communication with."

The discovery of the patent follows a Bloomberg report claiming that Apple had corralled 100 engineers and marketing managers around the rumoured product, and comes as Google ramps up its work on Project Glass.

Topics: Apple, iOS, Mobility, Patents

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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  • Prior art:

    Is it Velcro?
  • Why?

    That's the one question that's never been answered. Why would anyone who stopped wearing watches a decade ago ever go back to wearing one? An add-on to a smartphone? Why? The smartphone is already easy to check for the same information. Solutions to non-existent problems usually don't sell well.
    • I'd go back

      I'm tired of being one handed, sometimes no handed. Cup of joe in one hand, smartphone in the other. Try opening the car door. Wrist watches replaced pocket watches for a reason, and history may repeat itself.
      • Too right!

        For years I have sought to carry as little as possible. Before the iPhone came out, I had breakfast with one of the lead Apple guys and begged him to let it include GPS. He would only reply, "it will be location aware...". Now, there are huge benefits that we can all see and read about. I use a FitBit tracker, and the idea that I could have a watch that replaced it, talked to my iPhone, allowed NFC purchases, controlled my TV or whatever else would be a boon. Phone in pocket, watch on wrist. Most of the time I'd hold nothing - except my coffee - else I'd use my iPhone or carry my iPad or whatever comes next. I've tried out home automation and things like the really great little Netatmo weather station, and now I'd like to be able to add something that would unlock and or start my car for example. Imagine, I approach the car from the rear and the boot (trunk) opens, or from the driver's side and the car unlocks. I sit in it and push one button to start it. Np keys to carry, no locks to turn. Do I want a smart, extendible (via Bluetooth, NFC etc) watch? Hell yes! But please do make it waterproof Apple, most smartwatch vendors haven't thought that far yet.
    • Because!

      A watch is very useful for telling time under certain conditions. In the shower or while working with water, and it's easier to just flip your wrist then reaching in your pocket, having to dry your hands so you can touch the screen and slide the unlock. That's about the only thing that a smartphone can't do. Besides for getting the time a watch isn't very useful. My gripes about watches is that they don't stick to the time, either I accidently press the buttons and I lose my time. If this resolves it, I'll buy an iWatch just to tell time. Although, there really won't be any other uses and I'll put myself at risk to get mugged.
      Stacy Rhect
      • Back to 1914?

        Before World War One, most gentlemen carried a pocket watch (and pants came with a specially designed pocket for it, along with a place to hook the other end of a chain). When soldiers had to be issued timekeeping equipment to go to war, someone (I am not sure on which side, probably the Swiss) shrunk the watch to fit on a wristband, so that men with both hands full with weapons could check the time. Time-coordinated military operations became possible (what war movie doesn't have the "synchronize your watches" scene?), and when soldiers came home, they didn't want to bother with pocket watches. This is the same situation, except that our "pocket watches" are not made primarily to tell time, so we still have to carry them. But with a wrist display with voice input, we may not have to take them out as often!
    • "Solutions to non-existent problems usually don't sell well."

      The Apple iPad wants to have a talk with you...
  • Carnival prize

    There's a cheap toy, often given out as a carnival prize, that consists of a strip of spring steel wrapped in some brightly patterned fabric. When straight, the strip is curved longitudinally, like a single blade of a Venetian blind. But the steel is pre-stressed to curl tightly the other way, so if you slap it against your wrist, it wraps suddenly around it. There is no Velcro or other fastener involved, just the stress stored in the spring steel.
    Apple is apparently contemplating something like this, if they can devise a circuit and display that can stand the shock and changes in curvature.
    • Re: Carnival prize

      That's exactly what I was thinking. Those slap-wrap bands have been around forever, and a flexible touchscreen is nothing new either, so why should combining the two be worthy of patent protection?
  • Crazy Patents in Hardware Too

    Almost all software patents seem to suffer from this problem that they are a patent on the what rather than the how (and that's not supposed to be how patents work). The way this is described in the article makes it seem like another of those patents, but on hardware. Is any of the technology actually new?

    Patents are not supposed to be about thinking of new applications for existing technology. You don't need any kind of expertise to do that. Patents are supposed to be about new technology. If how the technology works is obvious (or already exists), it doesn't matter how new the application is. It's only if the how isn't obvious that a patent is supposed to be possible.
    • Great artists steal

      Apple does not actually create products. They steal ideas from others and recreate them. This has always been their model.
      • You have no idea what your talking about!

        Name another touch screen multi-purpose smartphone before the iPhone! GO! That's right, your talking out of your ass. Apple's business model is to innovate and create new ideas with existing hardware and software. Basically your saying that the guy who invented the light bulb didn't actually invent it because someone before him invented glass. And after the iPhone came out, out came Samsung and every other company to hop on the bandwagon, as with the iPad. Notice that none of these companies had the foresight to develop a smartphone before Apple.
        Stacy Rhect
        • Done

          Released 16 August 1994 by BellSouth under the name Simon Personal Communicator. The Simon was the first device that can be properly referred to as a "smartphone", even though that term was not yet coined.[5][14] In addition to its ability to make and receive cellular phone calls, Simon was also able to send and receive facsimiles, e-mails and pages through its touch screen display. Simon included many applications including an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, games, electronic note pad, handwritten annotations and standard and predictive touchscreen keyboards.

          Also your statement about a light bulb and glass made for a good lol moment. Do you understand the basic concept of how the light bulb works? or is it as simple as screwing on the bulb, turning the switch on, and the coil just magically lights up a dark room huh.
        • There Various Palm and Windows Pocket PC Phones Which Meet That Criteria

          There are various touchscreen smartphones running Palm OS and the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system from well before the iPhone. Some of the Palm devices aren't even all that different in general operation from an iPhone.

          What Apple does well, and did with the iPhone, is polish existing technology to make it appealing to the mainstream. In actuality the very success of the iPhone and similar devices from Apple is a good indicator that they are not innovative products because innovative products rarely, if ever, have mainstream success. It's always the second or third generation of a new technology (or later) that breaks into the mainstream after it's been polished for consumer use.

          There is nothing wrong with being really good at polishing new technology to give it mass appeal. Just don't try to claim it's innovative because I know better than that. New to the mainstream is not really new.
  • Apple Inc

    What's next, iEaring? Apparently Apple has come to a point where they will do anything and everything to stay afloat.