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Apple researching Apple Watch bands that can provide information in Braille

Detail from the patent showing how a band could be made with protrusions that may rise and fall to convey information

An Apple Watch band could be that which contains controllable protrusions, and Apple is researching elements that can be raised or lowered to present tactile information on the surface.

Apple has famously always researched providing accessibility features in its devices, whether or not it's profitable. However, so far there has been a limit to what the Apple Watch can do — and its bands could have no accessibility features at all.

"Tactile output for wearable device," is a newly granted US patent which aims to change that. Alongside the various things Siri can say aloud since the Apple Watch Series 3, there could now be Apple-designed bands that display Braille information.

While Apple wants its patent to cover any kind of electronic device possible, most of its descriptions and all of its drawings refer to the Apple Watch and to what Apple refers to as actuators. These are components that respond to a processor and cause other elements to move or rearrange.

"[For example, a] wearable item comprises a flexible strap and actuators within the flexible strap," says the patent. "The actuators are configured to dynamically form protrusions along the flexible strap. The protrusions present tactilely-perceptible information."

That's a watch band and Apple says that these "tactile output mechanisms" could be "configured to selectively form and remove tactile symbols." The patent alludes to using these protrusions either on the inside surface of a strap, where it touches the skin. However, it's mostly concerned with the outside, where they could be read with the touch of a finger from the user's other hand.

These protrusions are similar to the raised dots in Braille, but Apple says they needn't be confined to that one system. Rather than following the established patterns of whole words in Braille, the same protrusions could be configured to "also or instead be dynamically and/or selectively actuated to form [the] shapes of alphanumeric characters."

Detail from the patent showing how a finger may be able to read raised protrusions on a band
Detail from the patent showing how a finger may be able to read raised protrusions on a band

So a band with these features could, for instance, show text indicating your next event, or any short information. The band could list a countdown timer to that next event, or a stopwatch for your current workout.

Apple has often explored ways of making more use of the strap, such as adding buttons to one.

This latest patent is credited to Steven C. Michalske. His previous patent work includes how retailers such as Apple can display electronic items without needing unsightly security cables.