There has been talk of an Apple Smart ring for years. Since 2015, the tech giant has filed several patent applications that describe such wearable tech. But the latest one suggests that it's not only thinking about our fingers.
According to the language in the new patent, the company isn't ruling anything out. Really not anything. What could become Apple's next wearable after the Apple Watch and Vision Pro is described as an "electronic system with ring device" that could be worn "around a user's wrist, arm, leg, ankle, neck, head, and/or other body part." Any other? There aren't many parts left, which makes it sound like Apple could be leaving the door open to enter a very different market (see the best Apple deals for its current offerings).
I'm sure Apple isn't really considering competing Ann Summers. The language in the Apple smart ring patent granted by the United States Patent Office doesn't necessarily mean that Apple is seriously considering all (or even any) of the possibilities described. The sweeping description is more likely intended to make the patent as broad as possible to prevent copycat devices – and there are already several big competitors eyeing the area.
Fitbit and Samsung have lodged similarly vague-sounding patents while Movano Health has already developed a smart ring aimed at women. That said, the number of Apple patents for smart ring-like devices suggests the company is paying close attention to the area and searching for a new form factor to move on to.
Much of the latest patent details the kinds of companion devices that the ring, or bracelet, could work with and how input could be delivered via hand gestures and "the position of the user's body." It notes that "because a ring device may be worn throughout the day," the device will generally be immediately available to the user, facilitating "interactions between the ring device and objects in the user's environment."
Examples provided include using the ring to take an action when seeing an item with an NFC tag on a shelf, for example to retrieve a web page and present it on a display." (Apple presumably won't be considering a display on an ankle band or neckband). While we don't expect Apple to start developing electronic tags for tracking people, it does sound like such a device could also be used to grant (or not) access to buildings, for example (if it's able to provide authentication). Of course, there are implications for data collection.
Apple writes in the application: "In some instances, data may be gathered that includes personal information data that uniquely identifies or can be used to contact or locate a specific person." This could include demographic data, location, telephone numbers, email addresses, twitter IDs home addresses, health data, biometrics "or any other identifying or personal information."
And there's a potential connection with Vision Pro too, which Apple suggests could use cameras, magnetic sensing circuitry, and/or other sensors to track the position of the ring, while sensing circuitry in the ring could allow the user to point it to control the Vision Pro.
There's still no suggestion of when such an Apple smart ring could reach market, but several observers, including @theapplestack and @rockleaks have created concepts of how they imagine the device could look. In the meantime, we await the launch of Vision Pro next year.