Apple patent application hints at flexible touchscreen watch

Posted by Shane McGlaun

Anyone who spends time around kids or has kids of their own has probably seen slap bracelets at one time or another.

Basically, the bracelets can be stretched out and will hold a flat shape. When slapped on the wrist, they quickly wrap around to form a snug fit. Interestingly, a new patent application from Apple recently turned up depicting a touchscreen wearable device that uses slap bracelet-like techniques to attach to the user's hand.

The patent application - filed with the US patent and trademark office in August of 2011 - is titled "Bi-stable spring with flexible display" and describes a wearable device that fits on the wrist or other body parts, connecting to a portable device using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This allows the wearable device to stream relevant information in real-time on a flexible display that wraps all the way around the user's wrist.

Of course, Apple doesn't label its technology a slap bracelet, rather, it describes it in more scientific terms as a bi-stable spring.

"The most recent widespread use of such a device was a slap bracelet, also called the slap wrap. The slap bracelet consists of layered flexible steel bands sealed within a fabric cover. Typical slap bracelets are roughly one inch in width by nine inches in length," reads the patent application.

"In a first equilibrium position they can be flat. The second equilibrium is typically reached by slapping the flat embodiment across the wrist, at which point the bracelet curls around the wrist and stays relatively secure in a roughly circular position."

The application also outlines a device with all of the required electronic components embedded into the wraparound band of the bracelet device. The rigid components that won't bend to allow the device to wraparound the wrist will be mounted to one end of the bracelet, which would cover the electronics when worn.

The application depicts a second design with a flexible display mounted directly to the bracelet that would be framed by a more comfortable fabric covering. The technology inside the bracelet allows the device to take on the form of an uninterrupted screen when worn around the wrist. The device would also be equipped with integrated sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers, allowing the screen information to be oriented for proper viewing by the wearer. In addition, the display would support touch input, allowing the user to perform some basic functions of a smartphone or tablet using the bracelet, such as sending text messages.

And last, but certainlyt not least, the application describes an end-detection sensor that is capable of detecting where the bracelet begins to overlap - allowing it to take into account different sized wrists and adjusting the display accordingly.

Frankly, I think it's rather interesting that this patent application turned up recently, especially amidst all the rumors that have been flying around about an Apple watch.