Apple Watch Bands With Self-Tightening, Skin Texture Authentication, and LED Progress Bar Detailed in Patents

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today granted Apple several patents for smart Apple Watch bands with features such as biometric authentication, self-tightening, and an LED progress indicator, as noted by Patently Apple.

Apple Watch with biometric sensor

The first patent describes an Apple Watch band with a sensor that can authenticate the wearer based on patterns in their wrist's skin texture:
More particularly, skin texture cracks are generally warmer than the surrounding skin, and hair is cooler than the surrounding skin. By using an IR thermal image sensor as the wrist biometric sensor, hair can be distinguished, thermally, from skin texture cracks by temperature.
This feature would eliminate the need to enter a passcode on the Apple Watch or a paired iPhone to unlock the watch.

The second patent describes a self-tightening Apple Watch band. If the wearer is running or working out, for example, the band could automatically tighten in order to ensure it has a snug fit on the wrist while exercising. Upon completion of the physical activity, the band would then automatically loosen.

Apple Watch users would be able to set locations where the band automatically tightens upon arrival, such as a gym.

In other examples, the band could automatically tighten to notify a user of an upcoming turn while walking, driving, or swimming; to help the wearer count repetitions while weight lifting; or to notify the wearer that they have reached certain distance intervals while running, such as every mile.

A self-tightening Apple Watch band

The self-tightening band could also be part of a two-factor authentication system on the Apple Watch, as described in the patent:
For example, if a user wishes to access financial details hosted on a banking website, the banking website may require both the user's credentials and a verification of a number of tightening-loosening patterns sent to a wearable electronic device previously authenticated by the banking website…

In one example, a tactile pattern may be a series of five squeezes of the user's wrist (e.g., tighten and loosen in sequence). The user may thereafter enter "5" to gain access to the banking website.
The third patent describes an Apple Watch band with an LED indicator that would visualize the progress of an activity or task, such as completion of Walk, Stand, and Exercise rings. The indicator could also serve as an easy way to check an Apple Watch's remaining battery life at a glance.

Apple Watch bands with various LED indicators

Apple is hosting a special event at Steve Jobs Theater next Tuesday, where it is widely expected to unveil new iPhone and Apple Watch models. While a seasonal band refresh is expected, there have been no rumors or leaks about smart bands.

Keep in mind that Apple is granted dozens of patents every week, and many of the inventions do not see the light of day. Patents are also very detailed, encompassing many possible ideas, even ones that Apple might not have any plans to advance. So, whether any of these bands come to fruition remains to be seen.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 5, watchOS 6
Tag: patent
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Caution)

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Apple Has Explored Adding Positionable Cameras to Apple Watch Bands

Apple has explored the idea of adding a camera to the Apple Watch, although not in the way one might expect.

MacRumors mockup of Apple Watch with camera band

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today granted Apple a patent that describes an Apple Watch band with a camera or optical sensor affixed to the end of it. This would enable the Apple Watch to capture photos and video, with the Apple Watch's display serving as the viewfinder.

The band would be made with flexible materials, like many current bands, allowing the user to bend or twist it to aim the camera. Apple's patent includes various illustrations of how the band and camera could be positioned, including one where the camera hovers just above the Apple Watch's display.


A camera on the Apple Watch could enable basic photo capturing and FaceTime calls on the wrist. The patent also describes the possibility of multiple optical sensors, suggesting that a future Apple Watch band could have both front and rear cameras, allowing users to switch between views like on the iPhone.

Apple filed the patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on September 16, 2016, a week after it unveiled Apple Watch Series 2 models. While both Series 3 and Series 4 models have launched without camera bands since then, Apple could certainly move forward with the idea in future models.

Apple files numerous patent applications every week, however, and many of the inventions do not see the light of day. Patents are also very detailed, encompassing many possible ideas, even ones that Apple might not have any plans to advance. So, the exact implementation if any remains to be seen.

Over the years, rumors have come and gone about the Apple Watch gaining a front-facing camera in the bezel above its display, but this has never come to fruition, perhaps because of the limited internal space available inside the device. A camera watch band is just one potential solution to that problem.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 5, watchOS 6
Tag: patent
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Caution)

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First U.S. Jury Trial Begins Today in Apple-Qualcomm Legal Battle

In July 2017, Qualcomm filed suit against Apple in San Diego federal court, accusing the iPhone maker of infringing on six U.S. patents related to graphics processing architecture, power consumption, and envelope tracking technologies. Nearly two years later, the case is finally headed to trial.


The trial begins today with jury selection, with proceedings expected to take up to two weeks. It will be the first time a U.S. jury is involved in the major legal battle between the two companies, according to Bloomberg.

The legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm spans multiple countries. The dispute began in January 2017 when Apple sued Qualcomm for an alleged $1 billion in unpaid royalty rebates, just days after an FTC complaint alleged that Qualcomm engaged in anticompetitive patent licensing practices.

Qualcomm has countersued, alleging that its "innovations are at the heart of every iPhone" and "enable the most important uses and features of those devices," adding that it "simply is untrue that Qualcomm is seeking to collect royalties for Apple innovations that have nothing to do with Qualcomm's technology."

Last week, analysts at investment bank Barclays said that Qualcomm is seemingly "running out" of time to reach a settlement with Apple if it wants to win 5G modems orders for the first 5G-enabled iPhones, expected in 2020.


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Foldable iPhones Could Have Self-Heating Displays to Avoid Damage in Cold Weather

The foldable smartphone era is fully upon us with the recent introductions of the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X, and while it remains unclear if Apple will follow suit, the company has at least explored ideas related to foldable smartphones in patent applications over the past few years.

Huawei Mate X

In a patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today, titled "Electronic Devices With Flexible Displays," Apple explains that foldable smartphone displays could be prone to damage when bent in cold temperatures, and describes various heating methods to mitigate the issue.

For example, Apple says the portion of the display that bends could be heated by lighting up the pixels in that area of the screen. Alternatively, a "heating element or other heating structure" could be used, although Apple wasn't specific.

Apple's illustration of a folding device, along with an expanded view showing the bendable area of the display being heated

The patent application, highlighted by AppleInsider, notes that the foldable smartphone could have a magnetic latching mechanism that would prevent the device from being folded or unfolded in very cold temperatures to avoid damage to the display. This would be in environments "significantly below room temperature."

Apple files numerous patent applications every week, of course, and many of the inventions do not see the light of day. Patents are also very detailed, encompassing many possible ideas, even ones that Apple might not have any plans to advance. So, the exact implementation if any remains to be seen.

While unique, early foldable smartphones from Samsung and Huawei are far from perfect, with bulky designs and expensive price tags. Apple is unlikely to release a foldable iPhone unless it can meet the company's strict quality standards.

Last year, Bank of America analyst Wamsi Mohan predicted that Apple is working on a foldable iPhone for release in 2020, while an earlier Korean report said Apple was developing a foldable iPhone alongside LG. However, it's still not entirely clear if Apple will ever proceed with those plans.


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Apple Faces Yet Another Patent Lawsuit in East Texas Over LTE Standards

Last week, we reported on Apple's plans to close its retail stores in the Eastern District of Texas in April in an effort to avoid patent infringement lawsuits in the jurisdiction, perceived by many as being "patent troll friendly."


Ahead of the closures, Apple faces yet more patent litigation in the district. A group of limited liability companies under the Optis Wireless Technology, LLC umbrella filed suit against Apple on Monday in East Texas, accusing the company of infringing on a portfolio of seven patents related to LTE standards.

Optis Wireless and the other plaintiffs named in the complaint appear to be non-practicing entities that aim to generate revenue through patent litigation. These type of companies are commonly referred to as patent trolls.

The complaint, seen by MacRumors, alleges that all LTE-enabled Apple products, including various iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch models, infringe on the LTE patents. Optis Wireless and the other plaintiffs acquired many of the patents from Ericsson, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic — read the full complaint [PDF] for the exact patents.

The plaintiffs state that, not later than January 6, 2017, they sent Apple correspondence in an effort to license their essential patents to Apple on FRAND terms. The plaintiffs also allege meeting with Apple representatives on numerous occasions, but the parties did not reach a licensing agreement.

The plaintiffs are seeking "recovery of damages at least in the form of reasonable royalties" and have demanded a jury trial.

Last August, in the same court, a jury decided that Huawei willfully infringed many of the same LTE patents being asserted against Apple. The Chinese smartphone maker was ordered to pay $10.6 million in damages.


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Apple Outlines How Augmented Reality Glasses Could Overlay Points of Interest

Multiple reports suggest that Apple is developing an augmented reality headset or glasses that could be released by 2020 or 2021, and a newly granted Apple patent may provide some broad clues about potential features.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent describing a "method for representing points of interest in a view of a real environment on a mobile device," and while there is no specific mention of so-called Apple Glasses, the patent describes a "head-mounted display."


As with many other augmented reality devices, the head-mounted display would be able to overlay computer-generated virtual information onto a view of the real environment. More specifically, the headset would have a camera that is able to identify and annotate points of interest and other objects.

One illustration in the patent shows a head-mounted display showing buildings, each identified with an overlaying label. On a paired iPhone, a user would be able to tap on the point of interest to view additional information.


While the head-mounted display looks like a pair of snowboarding goggles, patent illustrations are merely examples.

Apple files numerous patent applications every week, of course, and many of the inventions do not see the light of day. Patents are also very detailed, encompassing many possible ideas, even ones that Apple might not have any plans to advance. So, the exact implementation if any remains to be seen.

At this point, it's not entirely clear if Apple is working on Google Glasses-like glasses or a HoloLens-like headset. Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed more of an interest in augmented reality than virtual reality, however, and the patent does suggest that Apple is focused on augmenting the real world.

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has previously reported that Apple's headset will use a custom iOS-based operating system dubbed "rOS" for now. He also said the headset would wirelessly connect to an iPhone.

Apple has acquired multiple augmented reality startups including Metaio in 2015, Vrvana in 2017 and Akonia Holographics last year, and has hired away employees from HoloLens and similar companies, as it continues to work on the project. In fact, the inventors listed on this patent are former Metaio employees.

AppleInsider was first to report on the patent being granted today. Apple applied for the patent back in 2017.

Related Roundup: Apple Glasses
Tag: patent

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Apple Wins Patent on Long-Delayed AirPods Wireless Charging Case and AirPower

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today published a newly granted Apple patent related to an "inductively chargeable earbud case." While the AirPods and AirPower are not named in the patent, the illustrations clearly show an AirPods-like wireless charging case on an AirPower-like charging mat.


Many current inductive charging mats require precisely aligning a smartphone or other device with the coils inside the mat for the most efficient power transfer. As noted by AppleInsider, however, Apple's patent describes a method that would allow the AirPods case to be placed anywhere on the AirPower.
Apple's solution is to use a pair of small charging coils in the case, occupying the bottom left and right hand corners of the rear section, typically the side that would make contact with a charging pad. Both coils would be capable of receiving a charge from a charging pad, effectively doubling its chances of being in an optimal charging position.
This is just one of many patents Apple has been grated for an AirPods-like wireless charging case.

Apple first previewed the AirPower and optional AirPods wireless charging case at its September 2017 event. At the time, Apple promised that the AirPower was coming in 2018, but the year came and went without any release.


Last year, a report suggested that Apple faced technical difficulties with the AirPower that likely delayed its release. Recent reports claim that Apple has since overcome those issues and instructed its suppliers to begin mass production of the AirPower, with several rumors hinting at an imminent release.

Just a few days ago, for example, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said the AirPower and AirPods case will launch in the first half of 2019.

Multiple sources claim Apple will host a special event at Steve Jobs Theater on Monday, March 25, but Apple's widely expected subscription-based news and video services are expected to be the focus of the keynote. By the sounds of it, there may be few to no hardware announcements at the event.

AirPower already had stage time, so a press release could be appropriate for its release, potentially alongside embargoed reviews. Rumored updates to the iPad, iPad mini, and iPod touch also sound minor, with few changes expected beyond faster processors and a slightly larger screen for the 9.7-inch iPad, so they could be press release worthy too.

Related Roundup: AirPods 2
Buyer's Guide: AirPods (Caution)

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Apple Exploring Flexible Display Designs for Future Apple Watch

Apple this week was awarded a patent for a potential Apple Watch design featuring a flexible microLED display that integrates with and encompasses almost the entire watch band.

Titled "Display Module and System Applications" and published by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Apple's patent explores several designs that could one day make it into a future Apple Watch.


In the patent, Apple foresees a watch with a flexible display substrate that includes a front side and an underlying second side. An array of microLEDs contact the wiring layer on the front side, while the second side is in communication with multiple electrical driver circuit chips.

In one embodiment, a plurality of interconnects extend throughout the substrate and integrate the two layers of the display area, which is surrounded by a bevel width of less than 1mm.

The patent also describes a contact ledge area that is wider than the bevelled surface of the display substrate. In this design, the MicroLED and input area of the display substrate extends beyond the watch face and ramifies out into the smartwatch band, transforming the band into an extended display area with touch-sensitive capacity.

In a further embodiment, the flexible display substrate includes a first display area for the watch face and a second display area extending to the watch band. In this incarnation, a computer-readable medium receives instructions that dictate the design for both the watch and at least some of the band.

Smartwatch concept drawings showings MicroLED and circuit chips

Interest in flexible displays has piqued in recent years because they offer several advantages over mobile glass displays, including better durability, lighter weight, and thinner dimensions. For example, Apple's patent envisions a panel that is rollable or foldable – the type that could be incorporated into a television display and rolled into and out of the housing via a spool.

Several Korean and Chinese mobile makers are either preparing to launch or actively developing foldable smartphones for the mass market. Samsung is due to reveal its upcoming Galaxy Fold foldable smartphone this week, while Xiaomi has demoed a similar concept.

Apple has been exploring MicroLED displays since at least 2014, when it acquired MicroLED display maker LuxVue. The company has also been researching flexible OLED displays for a potential foldable iPhone design, and has previously explored wraparound Apple Watch designs using similar materials, although there's no sign that it intends to bring devices with flexible screens to market anytime soon.

(Via FoldableNews.com)

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 5
Tag: patent
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)

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Future HomePod Could Feature 3D Hand Gestures and Face ID

A recently published Apple patent application suggests that a future HomePod could feature support for 3D hand gestures, Face ID, and much more.


While the patent application does not refer to the HomePod by name, it describes a voice-controlled assistant device such as a "countertop speaker" with various sensors and cameras that "gather hand gestures and other three-dimensional gesture input." This could include waving, clapping, and so forth.

Interestingly, the HomePod could have LEDs woven into the fabric to provide visual feedback for the hand gestures. The LEDs could also be configured to display alphanumeric characters through the fabric that change depending on time of day.

3D hand gesture support on the HomePod could utilize technology Apple gained from its acquisition of PrimeSense in 2013. In 2016, for example, Apple filed a patent for hand gestures on the Mac such as push, up, and wave that could be used to perform basic app interactions like scrolling through a menu.
Gestures described herein include focus gestures and unlock gestures. A focus gesture enables the user to engage (i.e., take control of) an inactive non-tactile 3D user interface. An unlock gesture enables the user to engage a locked non-tactile 3D user interface, as pressing a specific sequence of keys unlocks a locked cellular phone. In some embodiments, the non-tactile 3D user interface conveys visual feedback to the user performing the focus and the unlock gestures.

Examples of unlock gestures include an "up" gesture (e.g., raising hand 30 a specified distance), a sequence of two sequential wave gestures, and a sequence of two sequential push gestures, as described in detail hereinbelow.
PrimeSense's technologies were initially used by Microsoft for its Kinect motion sensor for Xbox. Apple later incorporated some of the technologies into the TrueDepth system that powers Face ID on the iPhone X and newer.

As for Face ID, the patent explains that the HomePod could identify users in the vicinity of the speaker using "facial recognition," as well as measure the distance of users to the speaker. This could allow for biometric authentication of Personal Requests, multiple user profiles, and more on a future HomePod.

In late 2017, the president of Apple supplier Inventec said his company sees a trend towards both facial and image recognition technology being incorporated into smart speakers, without specifying which speakers in particular. This led Apple analyst Jeff Pu to predict the launch of a Face ID-enabled HomePod in 2019.

The exhaustive patent goes on to describe a variety of other potential features for a future HomePod, such as ambient light sensing, displaying a sunshine icon if sunny weather is forecast, displaying the logo of a sports team that wins a game, heart rate sensing, and much more.

One quirky feature mentioned is an emoji-based avatar that would adapt to a user's mood or actions. If the user is sad, for example, the emoji may reflect sadness. Or, if a user asks the HomePod for information on purchasing a birthday gift, the speaker may display a happy emoji to present results.

The patent application was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in July 2017, six months prior to the launch of the current HomePod, but it was only published in late January due to a standard 18-month confidentiality period.

Apple files numerous patent applications every week, of course, and many of the inventions do not see the light of day. Patents are also very detailed, encompassing many possible ideas, even ones that Apple might not have any plans to advance. So, the exact implementation if any remains to be seen.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tag: patent
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Apple Exploring New Glass Panel MacBook Keyboards That Could End Sticky Key Problems

Apple is exploring a new keyboard design that could eventually replace its butterfly switch MacBook keyboards and finally solve the problem of "sticky" or inconsistently functioning keys.


Issues that Apple has acknowledged can occur with some current MacBook keyboards are widely believed to be caused by dust or other particulates getting lodged in the butterfly mechanism underneath the keycaps, which are shallower than those on previous-generation MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards with traditional scissor switch mechanisms.

In its 2018 MacBook Pro models, Apple quietly introduced a thin silicone membrane underneath keyboard keys, which is an attempt to solve the issue of dust and crumbs from getting stuck. But a new patent suggests the company is researching a totally new approach to the way keyboards are designed that could eradicate the problem for good.

Published last week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and first spotted by AppleInsider, the patent application called "Computer with keyboard" describes a keyboard that replaces movable keys with a glass sheet that includes raised sections to designate the tactile location of individual keys.

When a raised key section is pressed, the keyboard detects the input pressure for that key and processes as a typical key press. The concept differs from the featureless plain of a virtual onscreen keyboard because the raised sections allow the user to feel where their fingers should rest in relation to the individual keys.

Raised glass key concepts from Apple's patent application

The patent describes how an additional level of tactile feedback could be provided by a raised side wall around individual raised keys that could deform with each press, while an underlying layer could serve to "push" the key back into place.

Meanwhile, key symbols could lie on a separate later underneath the glass panel, which would make it easier to change the layout for different regions, languages, or even applications. The patent also proposes using side sections around the keyboard that could double up as a trackpad.

As expected, the glass keyboard could have the effect of making the keyboard thinner and allowing more room for other components to be housed in the notebook chassis.Apple has filed patents for keyboards in the past, included one that uses a touchscreen panel similar the Touch Bar, but that extends to the entire keyboard layout, but this is the first patent to emphasize the use of individually raised glass elements that mimic traditional tactile feedback.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Tag: patent
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Neutral)

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