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iExpand? Apple patents multiple bizarre, expandable smart ring designs

Of all the pieces of fashion to turn into tech, rings seem one of the more unlikely to pump ideas into. After all, a ring’s small size makes it hard to add a significant amount of features. According to a newly granted patent, Apple isn’t just looking into regular smart rings, it’s also exploring ways to create smart rings with expandable sections.

Smart rings are nothing new though, with the Amazon Echo Ring being just the latest in a series of finger-based smart wearables with a diverse set of features, like the Motiv smart ring, which features  fitness tracking, NFC payments, and biometric authentication. These patents show devices that would blow both of those out of the water though, as the expandable section could be used to hide a display and potentially a bunch of other features.

The designs vary enormously, from an expandable section dragged out from beneath the ring (figures 7 and 8), to an expandable section sandwiched between two end pieces (figures 19 and 20). Two of the more interesting designs use a series of nested sections hidden inside a signet-style ring (figures 16 and 17), and an expandable section that would roll up inside the ring when not in use (figures 25 and 26).

It makes sense this extra real estate would be used to house a display of some sort, but Apple would not be leaning solely on this functionality. Notes for the patent contain a veritable wishlist of features, including sensors to track movement, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and the ability to use air gesture controls. The patent also mentions the smart ring could communicate with other devices, and includes mention of headsets, goggles, and glasses alongside the usual entries for phones and laptops — more fuel for the Apple AR headset we’ve been waiting for.

How likely is it we’ll be seeing such a device any time soon? Not high. Companies create a lot of patents and many of them amount to nothing. Rumors of an Apple smart ring date back to 2015, and we tend to advise to not get excited about patents until more solid information spills out. Still, patents show what the world’s largest companies expect the future to look like, and it’s worth keeping an eye on them for that reason alone. If you absolutely need a smart ring, stick with the Amazon Echo Ring.

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