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Apple smart ring could offer Apple Watch functionality on a finger

Amazon's Echo Loop, a recently-launched smart ring

Apple is continuing to explore the possibility of creating a new wearable in the form of an Apple Ring, one that includes a finger-mounted touchscreen that could also be used to transmit commands to another nearby device wirelessly.

Apple is so far taking the lead in terms of wearable computing, with the Apple Watch dominating the smart watch marketplace and AirPods being one of the most popular audio accessories available today. While this is a great start for the iPhone maker in the field, the company isn't resting on its wearable device laurels just yet.

A patent granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday titled "Devices, methods, and user interfaces for a wearable electronic ring computing device," Apple outlines a ring that could be worn on a finger. Rather than just act as an input peripheral for another device, like a wearable wireless mouse, Apple's proposal offers what could be best described as a miniaturized Apple Watch in ring form.

The ring contains a processor, wireless transceiver, power supply, and a microphone. There would also be other sensors included within the ring to enable hand gestures to be detected and interpreted, along with a dial control perpendicular to the ring's circumference that could function like the Apple Watch's Digital Crown.

A simplified example of an Apple ring with display, buttons, and haptic feedback points
A simplified example of an Apple ring with display, buttons, and haptic feedback points

The ring could also include multiple haptic actuators for providing force feedback and "conveying directional information" to the user, motion sensitivity for "sensing a writing motion, biometric sensors for fitness tracking and security, and NFC communications. The wireless connectivity could also extend to transmitting identification information about the user to a secondary device, allowing it to unlock a Mac like an Apple Watch can be configured to do.

Among the gestures Apple defines include pointing at a separate device using the ring-wearing finger to prompt a wireless link, a swiping or flicking gesture to change selections in a menu, rotating the finger or device, and the jolt of a user touching or tapping a surface.

The ring can potentially share its angle of rotation to the other device by using multiple transmitters in different locations, with the other hardware able to triangulate each's position in 3D space. While this could help make for more accurate motion detection, knowing where two or three specific points of the ring exist can aid in knowing the exact angle of the ring or its motion including rotational movements.

Apple suggests the movement of the ring on a finger could influence other devices
Apple suggests the movement of the ring on a finger could influence other devices

A touchscreen is also mentioned, which could be used to input characters drawn by the user, again similar to one text input method offered by the Apple Watch.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while not all concepts illustrated by the company translate into finished products, they do at least indicate areas of interest for the iPhone maker's research and development efforts.

A ring-like device has cropped up before in patent filings, including a similarly-titled "Devices and methods for a ring computing device" that appeared in 2015. The patent application described a ring-based wearable device with a display that uses voice, motion, and touch input to control and interact with larger computing devices.

Considering the similarity with that patent application, as well as the existing work Apple has put into the Apple Watch that is mirrored in the filing, it seems like a logical progression for Apple to develop a smart ring or similar hardware. Not everyone wants to wear an Apple Watch, nor may they want to keep AirPods with potential health monitoring features in their ears all the time, making a ring seem like a sensible alternative.

Apple isn't the only one to be looking into using rings as a platform for computing among major tech companies. Amazon recently launched the Echo Loop, a smart ring containing two microphones activated with a button press and providing haptic feedback, one that also relies on a separate host device to perform processing and for data connections to power Alexa.