Apple patent describes iTime concept – Is this an early iWatch prototype?

23 July 2014, 4:02 am EDT By Alexandra Burlacu Mobile & Apps

Apple has apparently been cooking up a smartwatch for quite some time, if a newly-uncovered patent the company filed with the USPTO is any indication.

Smartwatches are on the rise and are expected to further gain momentum, with several big companies entering the wearable device race. Apple is among those heavyweight companies expected to join the party this year, as the much-rumored iWatch should make a debut this fall.

As it turns out, Apple has been considering a smart wearable device for a long time, as a U.S. patent has just surfaced. Called "Wrist-worn electronic device and methods therefor," the patent in question describes a number of possible configurations for a wearable device from Apple. In one illustration, for instance, the wearable hardware integrates with a wristband that features electronic circuitry. In another, the gadget appears as a removable module designed to connect to an electronic wristband.

"The invention pertains to an electronic wristwatch," the patent states. In one image, the wearable device appears as "iTime," further suggesting that it's a smartwatch. The key word in the patent, however, is "wristband," as it appears numerous times in the descriptions. This indicated that Apple focused more on form rather than function with this patent, which could further suggest that the company may base several wearable devices on this concept.

Apple is widely expected to launch its very first wearable device as the iWatch, as the company has filed trademark applications for this moniker. While Apple has yet to confirm plans to launch a smart gadget this year, the patent describes the great potential an electronic wristband would have, with the ability to connect and adjust to a removable hardware module. Apple may sell a range of small, portable devices that fit into its electronic wristband, and those may be more or less along the lines of the iPod Nano.

This modular approach would allow Apple to develop various gadgets for its wristband, with each of them focusing on some sort of functionality, rather than making a single device that tries to cover all bases.

It's worth pointing out, however, that although it surfaced just now, the patent dates back to 2011. That's ages in the rapidly-advancing tech world, which means that this patent may never materialize into a concrete product. On the other hand, smartwatches are only gaining momentum now, and Apple will likely want to join the race as soon as possible and counter smartwatch efforts from rivals. Apple archrival Google has recently launched its new Android Wear platform formally, and the OS is expected to power increasingly more smartwatches in the future. So far, Android Wear powers the LG G Watch, the Samsung Gear Live, and the upcoming Moto 360, but the platform will likely grace more devices this year. The iWatch may not be official just yet, but all signs point to a launch this year.

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