A new patent filing today shows that Apple
has been granted a wide-ranging patent for a future smartwatch device (dubbed the iTime). Apple's patent refers to a device which is removable (it continues to function when detached from its wristband) and can be upgraded or swapped with other products.
Apple's patent diagrams show a device that snaps into the band -- but the band itself is specifically stated as being capable of accepting other products. According to Apple's patent documentation for the figure below, "The central portion (302) can also include one or more electrical components... Alternatively or additionally, the central portion (302) can include an accelerometer and/or a battery as other or alternative electrical components."
The insertion pin (314) can be used as an electrical connector for the device itself and provide additional connectivity (exactly what this might entail is not discussed.) It's possible Apple has left the door open to building additional functions into the watchband itself).
A Flexible Set Of Functions:
One of the most common (and, in our view, accurate) criticisms of smartwatches is that they're intrinsically limited by both their own horsepower and the tiny interface window. Google
and Android Wear
have both taken cracks at expanding the kinds of data that can be pushed out to the smart watch, and it's clear that Apple has its own ideas -- the company describes integrating a software stack that would allow the device to interface with both iOS
and possibly OSX
(the included diagrams show the smart watch serving as a hub for a desktop, mobile phone, and "portable computer" (presumably a tablet or laptop).
The patent mentions using BlueTooth 4.0 for proximity locations -- leave your phone behind at the table, for example, and your smartwatch might buzz a particular pattern against your wrist to notify you. The patent also raises the idea of using the iTime directly to control another product -- you might be able to attach an iTime to an AppleTV
as a remote control or as a media player to play content on your smartphone.
A Patent Isn't A Product
I don't want to rain on Apple's parade on this one, but it behooves everyone to keep in mind that just because Apple has a patent on an idea doesn't mean it's about to launch something. Apple first filed for this patent in 2011 -- years before smartwatches were on anyone's mind.
For years, the market has talked about an Apple smartwatch
and to be clear, we aren't saying such a product isn't happening -- in fact, I think this patent sketches the ways Apple has thought about such a device and the form it might take. Don't necessarily jump from this to thinking that such a launch is imminent, however -- it could materialize later this year, or it might take another 12-18 months while Apple
works out its own process and capabilities. Historically, Apple has been known for making the best
versions of a product, not the first -- if it thinks it can build a better product by watching its competitors, we expect it'll continue to do so.