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Apple researching a Smart Ring for notifications and controlling other devices

One proposed design for a Smart Ring

A newly-granted Apple patent proposes an Apple Ring that would give Apple Watch-style haptic notifications, and let the wearer press on the surface to respond.

Either Apple is going to release an Apple Ring or someone in there is really, really keen on their hobby. For the newly-revealed "Ring Input Device With Pressure-Sensitive Input," is just the latest of very many Smart Ring patents from the company.

Way back in 2015, Apple was looking at a ring-style wearable that had voice control, haptics, and even a camera. Then in 2019, it looked like Apple was aiming to replicate Apple Watch functionality in a ring.

Given the length of time spent on this project, and the sheer number of patents and patent applications, it's reasonable to presume that Apple is closing in on a workable system. So already in 2023, there's been the report that a Smart Ring could be able to spot when you snap your fingers.

That seems so close to the way, the ringless way, that Apple Vision Pro is controlled that maybe all of this is really just an adjunct to that device.

But now in this latest granted patent, Apple is specifically examining the inside of a ring that could give notification taps, and the outside where there could be controls.

"Because finger rings are routinely worn and are often small," says the patent, "electronic finger rings can be employed as unobtrusive, everyday communication devices that are readily available to communicate wirelessly with other devices capable of receiving those communications."

Apple always aims to have its patents cover as broad and wide a range of possible future uses of the technology as humanly possible. This one is no exception, but its typical qualifying paragraphs do specify alternatives to rings.

"Although ring input devices may be primarily described and illustrated herein as electronic finger rings for convenience of explanation," says Apple, "it should be understood that the examples of the disclosure are not so limited, but also include ring input devices that are worn as part of a necklace, hoop earrings, electronic bracelet bands that are worn around the wrist, electronic toe rings, and the like."

Purpose and functions of a Smart Ring

In every case, such wearables could "receive wireless input from a companion device and provide information to the wearer." So for instance, "the ring can receive a notification from a smartphone and generate a vibrating alert."

For this latest Smart Ring patent, Apple talks about feedback like this haptic kind of notification, but concentrates on what the wearer can do in response.

Detail from the patent showing outer controls and an inner surface that can provide haptic feedback
Detail from the patent showing outer controls and an inner surface that can provide haptic feedback

"Ring input device... can be utilized to provide wireless inputs for a wide variety of devices," continues Apple. "For example, ring input device can be used to provide inputs to companion wearable devices such as smart watches, health monitoring devices, headphones, ear buds and the like."

"[They] can also be used to provide inputs to handheld devices such as smartphones (e.g., scrolling through a list using rotating outer band), tablet and laptop computing devices, media players, styluses, wands or gloves for computer-generated environments, and the like," says the patent. "In addition, ring input device can also be used to provide inputs to stationary devices such as desktop computers, smart home control and entertainment devices (e.g., turning on a lamp, changing a TV channel), and the like."

That reference to a "rotating outer band" does not mean a Watch-like band. Apple repeatedly proposes a ring that would have a rigid center worn on the finger, and a rotating element that goes around the outside.

So that outer rim could have touch-sensitive buttons for selecting something, or the whole rim could rotate around your finger.

This patent is credited to five inventors. They include Michael Beyhs, who previously worked on a touch-sensitive Digital Crown for the Apple Watch.