Will Apple’s Rumoured Smart Watch be Augmented Reality Enabled?

Nick Bilton of the New York Times reported yesterday that Apple is “experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass”. 

DickTracy+AppleWatch

(View more Apple Smart watch Concepts on Mashable)

Bilton posed several questions about the watch including, “If the company does release such a product, what would it look like? Would it include Siri, the voice assistant? Would it have a version of Apple’s map software, offering real-time directions to people walking down the street? Could it receive text messages? Could it monitor a user’s health or daily activity?”

The big question on my mind is: Will Apple’s rumoured smart watch be Augmented Reality (AR) enabled? (Google already has a patent on a smart watch incorporating a flip up display, see below.)

After all, a truly ‘smart’ smart watch would be responsive to context. Enter AR. Creating contextual experiences is one of the unique capabilities that will distinguish AR from other technologies and mediums. The best AR scenarios will be context driven and engage users in meaningful and compelling experiences that are specific to the individual’s unique circumstance or environment.

Enabling these experiences need not be limited to AR equipped devices such as tablets, smart phones, or eyewear. A watch is another viable contender. 

Google smart watch patent

Image: Google patent “Smart watch including flip up display”

In fact, Google patented a smart watch last year including a flip up display that appears to have AR functionalities. Could Apple be experimenting with something similar?

One of the examples in Google’s patent describes the figure above, which “includes an application where a user receives product information from the smart-watch”. The experience entails the user opening up the flip up portion and capturing an image of the desired product on the camera. The “inside display of the flip up portion may form an optical viewfinder for the camera. Therefore, the image may be seen on the inside display by the user.” The patent also states that “Product information may be retrieved in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, bar code scanning of the product or image analysis of the product.” Hello AR. 

To return to Bilton’s NYT article, one of the questions he posed about Apple’s rumoured smart watch was, “Could it monitor a user’s health or daily activity?” This important question around context and tailoring a unique response and experience based on the individual wearer made me think of a short video featuring Intel’s Genevieve Bell’s (Director of Interaction & Experience Research) views on computing in the year 2020 in which she asks, “Will devices learn us?”

Bell describes a near future “where technology can start to anticipate our needs” by means of “personal objects” that know you and your behaviours, like catching the bus every Monday morning. She tells us it is safe to imagine that our devices will come to know us in a whole new way: “They’re going to be more intuitive about who we are. They are going to have a memory of us. And as such not be so much of an interaction but a relationship.” (Perhaps a “relationship” like that between KITT and Knight Rider, that, on a side note, my mother referred to me as Knight Rider while I was using Siri on my iPhone.) We’ll have scenarios where personal technology knows and really sees us, seeing A.I. to “I”, anticipating and presenting custom tailored experiences and information.

And let’s not forget the other non-eyewear AR device prototypes such as the EyeRing and Sixth Sense from MIT, as well as Google’s patent for ‘seeing with your hands’ (Read more about those projects here in my article, “The 4 Ideas That Will Change AR”).

Bilton’s article referenced Corning’s bendable “Willow Glass”; Corning is also the maker of “Gorilla Glass” used in the iPhone. I had the great pleasure of being invited to participate in Corning’s Advancing the Vision 2 at Stanford last Fall, an exchange of ideas and information on building the technologies of tomorrow.

And if you haven’t already seen Corning’s “Day Made of Glass” videos, do watch below. (Yes, I said ‘watch’, although there are no smart watches featured in the series of videos, yet.) 

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