Apple gets patent on iTime smartwatch

The patent is for a wrist-worn gadget that has a touchscreen and can communicate with a smartphone

An drawing of a smartwatch design included by Apple in a patent filing

An drawing of a smartwatch design included by Apple in a patent filing

The US Patent and Trademark Office served up further evidence on Tuesday that Apple is designing a smartwatch when it awarded the company a patent for a wrist-worn gadget with a touchscreen and ability to communicate with a smartphone.

"The invention pertains to an electronic wristwatch," wrote Apple in the filing for U.S. Patent 8,787,006, which was submitted in July 2011 but made public on Tuesday.

The patent doesn't give much away about any commercial product that might be planned by Apple, but it does provide an insight into the way the company was thinking in 2011.

It describes "an electronic wristband to be worn on a wrist of a user" that has a receptacle for a "mobile electronic device." That mobile device is a small display module that can be clipped into the wristband when needed.

The display portion is a mobile device in its own right and functions while not clipped into the wristband. Once connected together, the wristband and mobile device form a smartwatch that can communicate with a second device such as a phone, tablet PC or desktop computer. the patent said.

The wristband might include haptic sensors that allow for control with gestures "with one's arm or wrist."

"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)," the filing reads

In some of the drawings that make up the patent, the watch device is labelled "iTime," although that name isn't claimed as a trademark with the USPTO.

"Portable electronic devices are commonplace today," Apple wrote in the document. "In some cases these portable electronic devices can be carried by a user with relative ease, placed in a pocket of user's clothing, or clipped onto the user or the user's clothing. Some portable electronic devices are small enough to be worn by a user."

"Additionally, accessories have been utilised to provide additional functionality to portable electronic devices," it said. "There are, however, continuing needs to make portable electronic devices smaller and more portable. There is also a continuing need to enhance functionalities of portable electronic devices."

While Apple hasn't publically acknowledged it is working on a smartwatch, a number of leaks from the company have suggested one is under development.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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