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Apple’s smart rings can be charged in an AirPods-style case

A future control system for Apple devices such as Apple Glass may consist of finger-mounted accessories, with Apple coming up with ways to charge the compact peripherals, including inserting them into an AirPods-style holder attached to a VR headset.

When thinking about the future of computer-human interaction, companies have many things to consider, ranging from the form factor to how each interaction fundamentally works, to the design and perception of the user to others when they use it. A key area is power, one that is especially useful for cordless hardware.

While there have been attempts to use smart rings on the fingers as a way for a user to control a computer, they have usually taken the form of an actual ring, usually as a rather large and bulky piece of hardware. Slimming the size of the ring can make it more appealing to users, but it can also make it harder for manufacturers to bring adequate battery power.

There are also recharging rings to consider, as users may not see the appeal of connecting their technical jewelry to a cable at the end of the day.

In a patent granted to Apple on Tuesday by the US Patent and Trademark Office entitled “Electronic finger devices with charge and storage systems,” Apple is trying to solve the power problem by lending an idea it used to AirPods.

The patent describes a “finger mounted device configured to be used on a user’s finger”, which sounds like a smart ring. One that includes a combination of sensors to measure finger movements, which in turn can be interpreted by a host device.

An illustration of the U-shaped unit on the back of the finger.

An illustration of the U-shaped unit on the back of the finger.

These sensors may include a force sensor to measure the force applied by the finger to the housing, some form of haptic output that may be applied to the finger, and systems for receiving power from an external power source. This may include a wireless charging coil, although the patent specifies that this will only be used at a charging point, not when the user is using the device.

Although it may be a ring, the patent goes on to describe it as a “U-shaped housing”, which will slide on the outside of the finger instead of on the underside. The housing would be “placed over the tip of a finger”, presumably near the fingernail itself, with hinged elements that provide greater freedom of movement around the knuckles.

An AirPods-style charging case, according to the patent

An AirPods-style charging case, according to the patent

While the patent briefly describes the finger-mounted elements, the main content of the archive applies to using power on accessories. In short, it does so via a separate cabinet for charging.

The patent describes this in two general forms, consisting of an AirPods-style wireless charging pad, and in a recess within the “head-mountable support structure” of a VR headset or AR glasses.

In both cases, the finger devices fit into shaped slots in the housings and orient them in certain ways to enable them to charge wirelessly using coils. This is very similar to AirPods charging cases in terms of mechanics, with the differences in the internal elements to accept a different type of device, and whether it is part of a larger headset.

For Apple, it will be advantageous to include such a charging point in a VR or AR headset, as it will mean that the headset and the interfaces of the VR or AR system will be held together and charged at the same time.

An Apple headset may have spaces to charge your finger devices.

An Apple headset may have spaces to charge your finger devices.

In addition to being able to set the devices to charge from an electrical outlet, Apple also proposes the use of harvesting energy via a solar cell, and a converter to convert kinetic energy into electrical power.

Originally filed in September 2018, the patent lists the inventor as Paul X. Wang.

Apple files several patent applications each week, but while the existence of a patent indicates areas of interest for Apple’s research and development team, it does not guarantee that the concepts will appear in a future product or service.

The U-shaped device on the back of the finger is reminiscent of another patent from 2019, where Apple proposes to withdraw the width of a finger-borne device to press a finger lightly. The squeezing will help to protrude the finger pad, giving users a more comfortable feeling when tapping on a screen or other surface, which is potentially similar to the keyboard.

Clamping may also possibly provide some feedback using the method, which is similar to the resistance of a key on the keyboard under pressure, and even general haptic feedback.

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