Apple experimenting with an iWatch, secures solar touchscreen patent

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.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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.

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 01.mm 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".

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