Apple's "iTime" patent hints at gestural interface, but no health features

By Jonah Comstock
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iwatch patentApple has been granted a patent, filed originally in July 2011, for a wrist-worn iWatch device, giving a new peek into some possible features of the much-hyped device rumored to be launching in October. However, on the subject of healthcare or wellness tracking as a focus for the device, the document is silent. AppleInsider originally spotted the document.

The patent refers to the device as "iTime" in at least one graphic, and describes it as "an electronic wristwatch." The patent lists a number of possible iterations for the device, including standalone versions that work without a smartphone and versions that sync or connect to another device in various ways. It details how the watch could push data to the mobile device and vice versa, acting as a remote controller for a music player or vibrating to notify the user about an incoming call, text, or even social media post. It does mention the inclusion of an accelerometer and/or gyroscope, but it doesn't mention health tracking as a use case for the sensor.

"Another aspect of embodiment of the invention pertains to use of gestures with one's arm or wrist to provide a user input to an electronic wristband," the document reads. "[...] The gesture can correspond to specific movements of a user's wrist or arm can vary with implementation. For example, the gesture might be a horizontal movement for one user input option (e.g., decline incoming call), and might be a vertical movement for another user input option (e.g., accept incoming call). For example, the gesture might be a single shake (or bounce, tap, etc.) of the user's wrist for one user input option (e.g., accept incoming call), and might be a pair of shakes (or bounces, taps, etc.) for another user input option (e.g., decline incoming call)."

Of course, the patent is open-ended for many use cases above and beyond what's represented therein, and the lack of mention of health or fitness tracking is not too surprising, given that in 2011 fitness tracking wearables, while still extant, were not enjoying the popularity they are today. More recent moves from Apple very much point to a fitness tracking use case for the iWatch: a hiring spree of mobile health notables; Nike's apparent exit from the wearable space followed by Apple hiring two FuelBand engineers; and, of course, Apple's Health app and Healthkit SDK in its new iOS 8 operating system.

The device, which has yet to be officially announced or acknowledged by Apple, is rumored to be due out in October, according to a Japanese publication with a history of pegging Apple release dates. That happens to line up with the rumored release date of Microsoft's smartwatch as well. That device will reportedly have a number of health sensors including continuous heart rate monitoring.

Assuming the various reports are correct and the companies stay on schedule, it looks like October is when the mainstream smartwatch trend will finally move out of the realm of rumors, gossip, and vague patents and into the very real wearables market.