Apple’s concept for a Smart Ring device was given a patent on the 15th of October - this, after three and a half years of brainstorming. The patent description describes a comprehensive vision of a product that allows the wearer to interface other devices and services more efficiently, safely, and discreetly - compared to today's touch-based User Interfaces.
But, is the company planning to launch yet another i-product, or are they starting the next UI revolution? Read this blog about Apple’s Smart Ring patent and decide for yourself!
What’s up in the Smart Ring Market?
The Smart Ring is a relatively young wearable niche segment, which has been predominantly driven by startup device makers such as Oura Health, Motiv Ring, and the like. Amazon was the first global ecosystem brand to launch a Smart Ring. Its Echo Loop product was published earlier in September and has started a new era in the wearable niche segment.
The patents of Microsoft and Apple promise further global tech brands will follow suit and enter the Smart Ring market.
But, will we see these companies ready to launch Smart Ring products, and when will this happen? This is not yet known. However, this doesn't stop us from taking a sneak preview into the future!
We decoded Apple’s Smart Ring patent – here’s what the product could do for you.
Why Does Apple Think that the Smart Ring is needed?
The use of touch-sensitive surfaces to control smartphones, watches, laptops, computers and many other electronic devices has increased significantly in recent years. These touch-sensitive surfaces include mainly touchpads and touch-screen displays.
According to Apple, the existing touchpads and touch-screen displays, however, may be cumbersome, inconvenient, or inefficient for specific tasks and applications. A user's hands may be busy with another task, or the user's hands or arms may be tired after holding the device in a viewing position for a long period.
The light emitted from a touch-screen may be inappropriate in certain social situations, or, it could give away the location of a threatened user. Furthermore, switching back-and-forth between different input modes, such as a keyboard and mouse, may not be enough.
The time is right for the user-interface revolution. A more discreet, safer, efficient, and ergonomic way to interact with devices and services, and for interfaces, which will reduce the cognitive burden on the user, and will produce a more efficient human-to-machine communication. These new methods and interfaces could complement, or alternatively replace today’s conventional methods for interaction.
Which Smart Ring Segments Would Apple’s Device Fit in?
Apple’s patented Smart Ring is primarily a multi-functional companion device for controlling other devices and services. The Smart Ring would be designed to wirelessly interact with, and control those devices by using several alternative control and input techniques, including voice commands, hand gestures, and haptic commands, i.e., touches.
Apple’s patent doesn’t present a detailed scope of the compatible external devices and services that the Smart Ring would work with. However, here is a list of devices that you could control with the Smart Ring: a smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, laptop and desktop computer, a media player, TV, an automobile audio system, smart home appliances, and a voice assistant - such as Apple’s Siri, of course.
How Would the Apple Smart Ring Work?
Apple’s Smart Ring is mounted on one finger, and can be controlled in several ways – through voice commands, gestures and motion, and touch. The haptic sensor included on the ring will detect the intensity and surface area of the contact. It will also include a haptic actuator, i.e., vibrator, to provide feedback to the user.
Here is a run-down of several of the functionalities and features specified on the patent.
Apple’s Smart Ring device includes a microphone for recognizing the voice commands of the user; the microphone is configured to wake up in response to a specific command from the user. The device includes a haptic actuator for acknowledging the user and giving recognition of his or her command.
The user mounts the Smart Ring on his or her finger, let’s say, the index finger, and uses another finger, presumably the thumb, to touch and tap a haptic sensor area to give commands to the external device. The tiny haptic sensor exposed on the surface of the ring is configured to detect several pre-defined touch events, each of which are associated with a function.
The Smart Ring further includes a rotating dial for controlling the external device - for instance, to scroll through icons to invoke an application.
The Smart Ring consists of a total of two haptic actuators, which can be configured for conveying directional information to the user.
The ring would include a Near Field Communication (NFC) capability, which is typically deployed to enable applications - such as contactless payments and secure access.
The Smart Ring patent describes how it detects the characters and motions drawn by the user, and recognizes swipes for page-flipping, twisting gestures, and transmits this information to an external device, or service
Apple’s Smart Ring device patent mentions a biometric sensor for sensing the biometric information of the user and transmits data over a wireless connection to a secondary device. This could allow the Smart Ring to unlock the user’s Apple devices – for example, a laptop or smartphone.
Voice Assistant Controller
Apple’s Smart Ring would naturally function as a voice assistant controller for Siri – just as the Amazon Echo Loop does for Alexa. In Apple's patent description, a pre-defined voice command or gesture would wake up the Smart Ring and open a wireless connection to Siri.
The patent reserves a possibility to display information on the touch-screen mounted on the surface of the ring
The Smart Ring includes a power receiver circuit for recharging the battery through a wireless power source. This could be a simple hook or stud to hang the ring. The patent also sketches a steering-wheel-mounted wireless charger.
The patent describes how two people could send and receive notifications through their Smart Rings. As an example, a ring-user could draw a character in the air, and this would send a signal to the other user; and evoke a specific pattern of vibrations on the user's ring. Multiple ring users could also simultaneously use and control external applications such as a video player, web browser, or video game over the Bluetooth connection.
According to the Smart Ring patent description by Apple, the ring device with a display, touch-sensitive surface, and multiple sensors will provide faster and more efficient methods and interfaces to control external devices – thus increasing the effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction.
The ring form-factor is more portable than a mouse, and doesn't require eye contact with the controlled devices – it releases you from other devices. The ring reduces mode-switching between the keyboard and touchpad. It is smaller and less obtrusive than other wearable devices. The ring can be operated by using a single hand and you don’t have to put it aside, while holding another object. The Smart Ring can thereby complement, or even replace conventional methods for controlling external devices and services.
Will Apple actually launch the Smart Ring product, and will it become just another i-gadget, or, will we soon be experiencing the next UI revolution?
Only time will tell. But, hey, let’s not forget the company’s track record in creating great user-experiences…