Apple invents modular Apple Watch accessories that link together, connect via diagnostics port

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited March 2016
A trio of Apple inventions published Thursday detail advanced strap designs with embedded electronic devices that connect via Apple Watch's diagnostics port, suggesting the wearable might soon support wireless charging battery packs, GPS receivers and more.


Source: USPTO


The patent applications, published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, offer an intriguing taste of a modular hardware ecosystem created to extend Apple Watch functionality well beyond its current limitations. Instead of building sensor stacks, processors and other complex -- and power hungry -- components directly into a single chassis, Apple proposes a breaking those units out into a wide range of devices sold as watch band links, electrically connected in series or parallel.

As described in Apple's "Modular functional band links for wearable devices" application, modular designs present a flexible platform onto which users can add on the features, or hardware nodes, they want most. This level of customization promises optimized power consumption and a lean internal layout, two valuable commodities in a miniature computing platform.




Like any multifunction device, Apple notes Apple Watch can support accessories enabling a slew of value-added functionality, the most interesting being batteries, displays, processors, electricity generators, GPS sensors, cameras, thermometers, blood pressure sensors, sweat sensors and speakers. Arranged as links, the standalone devices connect to each other and ultimately to the 6-pin diagnostics port on Apple Watch.

Since the modules share a communication bus, Apple proposes unique identifiers be used to activate and send data to each separate link. For example, a signal coded with an audio identifier can be sent out by Watch and received and processed by a speaker module, while all other modules ignore the message.

In some embodiments, links themselves can act as an external port for accepting electronic components, perhaps a SIM card or powered memory module.

Apple's modular wearable link patent application was first filed for in February 2015 and credits Motohide Hatanaka, Douglas J. Weber, Brian Shadle, Alex M. Lee, David S. Herman, Patrick S. Wieler and Simon R. Lancaster-Larocque as its inventors.




Rumors that Apple would use the diagnostics connector as a jumping off point for a class of functional accessories circulated before the device saw public release. Speculation that the port was capable of transferring power and data in real time was confirmed a couple months later when Apple rolled out interactive Watch displays based on such technology at its retail stores.

Apple's "Portable electronic device connector" application, filed for in May 2015, serves as evidence that the company has at least considered the diagnostics port as a viable communications interface. Brandon B. Tulloch, Gordon C. Cameron, John Danby; Amaury J. Heresztyn and Nagarajan Kalyanasundaram are credited as inventors.




A specific example of Apple's module idea is revealed in an application for an "Auxiliary electronic device attachable to a wearable electronic device," which describes a band accessory featuring an internal power source and supporting wireless transmission circuitry. Basically a recharging strap or battery extender, the device would be slim enough to fit between the wearable and a user's wrist. Apple describes it as a "backpack" for Apple Watch.

Aesthetically, the auxiliary device is almost identical to Apple's current lineup of replacement straps, complete with attachment lugs and a variety of clasp mechanisms. Like the Sport Band, leather loop and new nylon style straps, the housing of Apple's proposed charging device can be constructed from any number of comfortable heat-dissipating materials, including plastic, rubber, silicone, aluminum, graphite and ceramic.

In some embodiments a GPS antenna is included as an optional user feature, offering location sensing capabilities not included in current Apple Watch variants. As GPS technology draws high levels of power, the auxiliary device in such arrangements might dedicate onboard battery capacity solely to the onboard positioning sensor. Gathered location data can be sent via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or a wired path routed through Watch's 6-pin diagnostics port.




The design includes space for lenses that traverse through the device body, facilitating uninterrupted operation of Apple's optical heart rate sensor, which currently sits on the bottom of Apple Watch as an array of two light emitters and two receiving sensors.

Apple's auxiliary device for wearables patent application was first filed for in February 2015 and credits David I. Nazzaro, Tyler S. Bushnell and Javier Mendez as its inventors.

It remains unclear whether or not Apple intends to roll out functional Apple Watch accessories for its first-generation device. A more plausible scenario, perhaps, is an introduction alongside a successor device that might see announcement later this year.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    Does Apple call it a Diagnostics Port because that seems a poor name to me. It was always made sense to be used for advanced straps.
    dinoone
  • Reply 2 of 22
    I love how Apple never sits on its laurels. It's never satisfied with the status quo. It's always looking for ways to improve its products.

    But it can only do this because of its mission to "make the best products on Earth."

    Its customers know this. Its would-be customers know this, and that drives its sales—at prices high enough to afford it the resources to continue its r&d, as well as its overall operations.

    Apple's detractors jealously whine about the "Apple Tax", but its customers are grateful for its resolve to stay the course and just keep doing its successful actions to the benefit of us all.
    moreckjay-tlollivernolamacguymagman1979brometheus
  • Reply 3 of 22
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Does Apple call it a Diagnostics Port because that seems a poor name to me. It was always made sense to be used for advanced straps.
    Since it hasn't been used in a product, yet, I think it was named that mainly to obscure it's real eventual function.

    They probably were not ready to introduce those straps last year, but it is likely coming (and the port would then get a change of name).


    lolliver
  • Reply 4 of 22
    moreckmoreck Posts: 187member
    Author: You don't need to write "filed for." The "for" is unnecessary. "Filed" is sufficient :)
  • Reply 5 of 22
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,965member
    A lot of possibilities here and it opens up the opportunity for 3rd-parties to make accessories that attach to the bands and therefore the watch. For example, Apple doesn't need to make a blood sugar monitor, somebody else can and worry about all the regulatory issues. The Watch then simply becomes the data collection and display device.
    nolamacguydachar1983cornchip
  • Reply 6 of 22
    schlackschlack Posts: 711member
    these are not "inventions"!! these are pictures that someone at apple drew with a pen!! they might have built prototypes of this technology, but let's be careful not to call them inventions just yet.
    jackansi
  • Reply 7 of 22
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,297member
    Seems to me there are two questions: 1. how can this be used without having to go through FDA approval. In an interview last year Tim Cook made it pretty clear that Apple wasn't interested in doing anything that required FDA approval because it would slow down product development cycles and innovation. 2. Can anything really innovative (at least on the medical side) happen without FDA approval or are the really innovative things those that would require approval?
  • Reply 8 of 22
    EsquireCatsEsquireCats Posts: 1,241member
    I'm guessing this is for the next generation and will utilise something similar to the iPad Pro's keyboard interface.
  • Reply 9 of 22
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    Does Apple call it a Diagnostics Port because that seems a poor name to me. It was always made sense to be used for advanced straps.
    how do you know this?
  • Reply 10 of 22
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    schlack said:
    these are not "inventions"!! these are pictures that someone at apple drew with a pen!! they might have built prototypes of this technology, but let's be careful not to call them inventions just yet.
    you seem new to the patent process. they are indeed inventions. the illustrations here are just that -- illustrations. you can go read the full patent application. 
    ai46
  • Reply 11 of 22
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    this sounds great. I'm not a runner and have no use for GPS, but if my SO wants that feature she could swap bands when prepping for a run, which she does anyway. third parties could make other detection bands. if they pull this off it'd be an interesting platform. and who better to pull off this sort of accessory hardware ecosystem than Apple, who has already done so with the MFI successes?
  • Reply 12 of 22
    http://www.imedicalapps.com/2016/03/apple-watch-ekg-kardia-band/#
    Seems to me there are two questions: 1. how can this be used without having to go through FDA approval. In an interview last year Tim Cook made it pretty clear that Apple wasn't interested in doing anything that required FDA approval because it would slow down product development cycles and innovation. 2. Can anything really innovative (at least on the medical side) happen without FDA approval or are the really innovative things those that would require approval?
    See the following link: http://www.imedicalapps.com/2016/03/apple-watch-ekg-kardia-band/# FDA approves the accessory and App and iPhone is the conduit (and works with the APP).
  • Reply 13 of 22
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,460member
    Does Apple call it a Diagnostics Port because that seems a poor name to me. It was always made sense to be used for advanced straps.
    Now keep the imagination going... the "watch" could connect to any number of devices: advanced medical devices for health monitoring/data collection, gaming devices to allow for more advanced interaction with other Apple products.  Basically become a simple way to add advanced functionality & Apple compatibility to any number of hardware products.
    edited March 2016 ai46
  • Reply 14 of 22
    larryalarrya Posts: 586member
    What is the vision for how to charge all of these external accessories?  Apple always does a great job with usability, but I fear these will be yet more items to disassemble and charge every night, each in its own way (GPS, extended battery, medical diagnostic devices) since there is so little reserve in the watch battery and they will likely be self-powered.  Hopefully the diagnostic port can pass charging power to all the accessories. 
  • Reply 15 of 22
    I love how Apple never sits on its laurels. It's never satisfied with the status quo. It's always looking for ways to improve its products.

    But it can only do this because of its mission to "make the best products on Earth."

    Its customers know this. Its would-be customers know this, and that drives its sales—at prices high enough to afford it the resources to continue its r&d, as well as its overall operations.

    Apple's detractors jealously whine about the "Apple Tax", but its customers are grateful for its resolve to stay the course and just keep doing its successful actions to the benefit of us all.
    Well said. I was always amazed at what Apple did during the iPod success. They had ~85% of the MP3 market and yet improved upon the iPod year after year. What other company does that? Then they released the flash-based Shuffle and by the "following Friday," they had ~95% of the flash-based music players! :) I pay a little more for my tech products (And I try really hard not to buy any Tech that is not Apple!) I do it because I love Apple and I know they will use some of the margin do the excellent research and development to make, as you say, "The best products on Earth." Eg. It's a little deal, but my GF loves the "After Dark" feature that automatically dims the screen in the evening! Brilliant! :)
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 16 of 22
    19831983 Posts: 1,225member
    Well these patent applications finally confirm what has been rumoured for a while now. And its quite exciting too! I hope we see this technology implemented in product together with a second-gen Watch at the Fall keynote. If so it would finally give some solid purpose to their wearable device.
  • Reply 17 of 22
    The first thing I thought of when I saw the design of the watch and the concealed ports was that a strap would be an ideal for an external battery.
  • Reply 18 of 22
    Does Apple call it a Diagnostics Port because that seems a poor name to me. It was always made sense to be used for advanced straps.
    This is a more or less standard Apple term. This is what it calls the USB port on an AppleTV. I assume that they chose the term in order to keep the public's focus on the existing features and to avoid undue speculation that might cause people to wait for the next version, which would presumably have better features, longer battery life, etc.
  • Reply 19 of 22
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,044member
    Seems to me there are two questions: 1. how can this be used without having to go through FDA approval. In an interview last year Tim Cook made it pretty clear that Apple wasn't interested in doing anything that required FDA approval because it would slow down product development cycles and innovation. 2. Can anything really innovative (at least on the medical side) happen without FDA approval or are the really innovative things those that would require approval?
    It depends. If the glucose monitoring is for information only but not used for patients officially, it may not need to be reviewed by FDA panel. Thinking of thermometer as an example. In worst case scenario, the medical devices such as glucose monitor or blood pressure monitor usually are not required so strictly on clinical trials which means only small sample of patients is needed.
  • Reply 20 of 22
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,799member
    The first thing I thought of when I saw the design of the watch and the concealed ports was that a strap would be an ideal for an external battery.
    Perhaps, however lithium batteries are a bit dangerous, which is one reason Apple doesn't make any device with exchangeable batteries. Putting a lithium battery in a flexible strap in direct contact with the skin seems like a bad idea.
    cornchip
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