Tablets are so last year. A variety of developments, including a newly revealed patent application from Apple for a watch, point to the Next Big Thing in mobile devices -- wearables.
A patent application for a "bi-stable spring with flexible display," filed by Apple in August 2011, has come to light. The device, which could point to the iWatch that Apple reportedly is getting ready for release later this year, can lie flat-out or curled, and be either rigid or flexible. It is being compared to slap bracelets that users slap on a wrist to wrap and curl in place.
The patent application also hints at several possible innovations, if such an iWatch did emerge. These include the possibility of a curved or flexible screen, such as has been seen in various test product runs by other companies, including Samsung. The other possible innovation is the use of solar energy, or of kinetic energy from the user's movement, as backup power sources.
'Co-Operative Electronic System'
The application also suggests that the electronic device on the wristband is designed to be part of a "co-operative electronic system," such as communicating remotely via Bluetooth with an iPhone. It describes the electronic device as being touchscreen, and able to "accomplish a number of different tasks, including adjusting the order of a current playlist," reviewing a list of recent phone calls, or responding to a text message via a virtual keyboard.
Last week, Bloomberg News reported that it has a team of about 100 product designers working on a watch product, citing "two people familiar with the company's plans."
The iWatch reports come on top of at least two other major wearable computing products in the works, one of which has been confirmed. The confirmed device is Google Glass, high-tech glasses that permit video/audio recording, voice commands, location-based data overlays on the scene being viewed, Web-searching and other capabilities.
Google Glass, Samsung's Galaxy Altius
This week, Google unveiled a point-of-view video demonstrating Google Glass in action, as the user played with children, parachuted, and queried the Web for information about people met and places seen. It also unveiled a new Web site for Glass, and announced a contest in which contestants submit short entries about how they would use the product. The prize: an opportunity to buy from the current limited supply, at a price of $1,500 a pair. While not ready for release, Google-watchers see these steps as precursors to the product's eventual release.
Last week, several screen shots were posted on the Web that allegedly showed a Galaxy Altius smartwatch from Samsung. The images, originally from a Korean message board, point to a wristwatch with 235 MB of internal storage, a tile-based interface, such functions as a music player and e-mail, and the ability to act as a companion to another device, such as a smartphone.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, said wearable computing like the purported iWatch could well be "the Next Big Thing." For Apple in particular, she said, "the bar has been set so high and, if the company wants to continue to be thought of a leader, this is the kind of thing it has to do."