A Patented Review of Apple’s Upcoming iWatch by Matt Margolis
Apple’s iWatch patent was granted on February 21, 2013 under the name BI-STABLE SPRING WITH FLEXIBLE DISPLAY. There is a significant amount of technical information and detail provided in the patent. I have tried to do all of the dirty work for you and summarize the technological specifications as well as assess whether some of the juicy options should be expected or not expected in the 2014 version of the Apple iWatch. Listed below are some significant claims associated with the iWatch patent:
A wearable accessory device is disclosed. The wearable accessory device includes a flexible display coupled to a bi-stable spring. Coupling the display to the bi-stable spring allows the accessory device to be easily worn in a number of convenient locations.
A wearable video device arranged to be worn by an end-user, comprising: a flexible substrate having a flat state and a curled state; a flexible display disposed upon a first surface of the flexible substrate, wherein in the curled state the flexible substrate conforms to an appendage of the end-user, the flexible substrate further comprising: an electronic module in communication with the flexible display, the electronic module providing information to the display, at least a part of which is presented in real time for presentation by the flexible display; and a mechanism for detecting an end portion of the flexible display, the detection for adjusting the arrangement of information shown on the flexible display to match the size of the appendage the wearable video device is mounted on.
 A method for passing information between an accessory device disposed on one surface of a bi-stable spring substrate and a portable electronic device is disclosed. The accessory device includes a flexible display arranged to present a first set of visual information. The portable electronic device has a portable electronic device display arranged to present a second set of visual information. The method includes the following steps: (1) determining whether the accessory device is being worn by an end-user where the determining is accomplished by at least one sensor on the accessory device; (2) when it determined the accessory device is being worn by the end user, establishing a communication channel between the accessory device and the portable electronic device where the communication channel is arranged to provide a bi-directional communication link between the flexible display and the portable electronic device; (3) passing information between the portable electronic device and the accessory device by way of the bi-directional communication link, where at least a portion of the passed information is presented by the flexible display as the first set of visual information; and (4) displaying the first set of visual information by the flexible display.
 A slap bracelet configured to display information wirelessly transmitted from a portable electronic device is disclosed. The slap bracelet includes at least the following components: (1) a communication link, allowing two-way communication between the slap bracelet and the portable electronic device; (2) a flexible display disposed over a portion of a first surface of the slap bracelet; (3) a touch sensitive user interface disposed over the top of the flexible display; and (4) an electronic module disposed on one end of the first surface of the slap bracelet. Information generated on either device can be displayed on either the host device display or the flexible display.
What Apple’s iWatch could feature based on my review of the patent:
- Worn on leg
- Worn on arm
- Solar Power
- Kinetic Energy
- Solar Panel Array
- Wireless Communication Between Devices
- 2 Batteries – Integrated Device and a Solar Powered/Rechargeable replaceable battery
- Read email and documents
- Video capability
- Curved Display over a Flat State that rest on the body
- Flexible Display possibly OLED
- Flexible straps that confirm to the body “slap bracelet”
Kinetic Energy Charging (Not Likely)
Kinetic energy is listed above as a potential power source within the iWatch patent, which would be used to power one of two potential iWatch batteries. In addition to the patent, Apple has had discussions with Swatch Chief Nick Hayek about materials for products and so-called energy harvesting “Kinetic Energy” technology that would generate energy from physical movement. A lesser know company, n M2E Power was focused on developing motion powered charges and energy storage devices but the company was sold in 2009 to Motionetics and not much is known if they continued this work or dropped the project all together. Kinetic energy is currently used to power watches, but the power draw from a smartwatch would require significant technological improvements and I’m just not sure we are there yet.
Solar Power (Very Likely)
October 31, 2013 Apple was granted a new solar touch screen patent, that will allow Apple to power a device, without the need of a “boost converter,” which will lead to fewer issues squeezing components underneath the hood of Apple’s devices. This is a significant improvement from the February 2013 patent. Although the iWatch was not listed under the electronic devices we all know that it is on the list. The patent’s technical details are below:
Apple’s patent filing states that in the absence of the power adapter and/or mains electricity, the portable electronic device may be powered by the battery until the battery is fully discharged. Because the battery has a limited runtime, operation of the portable electronic device may generally be dependent on the availability of mains electricity. Hence, use of portable electronic devices may be facilitated by improving access to power sources for the portable electronic devices.
Apple’s invention relates to providing a power management system that supplies power to components in an electronic device. The power management system includes a system microcontroller SMC and a charger. The electronic devices that will be able to take advantage of Apple’s new solar panel include a MacBook, iPad, iPod touch and iPhone.
During operation, the power management system accepts power from at least one of a power adapter and a solar panel. Next, the power management system supplies the power to components in the electronic device without using a converter circuit between the solar panel and the power management system.
December 2013 Curved Touch Sensor Patent (Very Likely)
Apple was awarded a curved touch sensor patent on December 10, 2013. The curved patent description aligns closely with the iWatch forms, that were called out in the iWatch patent including; “curved touch surface”, “flat state” and “flexible substrate”. The use of thin films could indicate solar cells and/or sapphire laminates. The curved touch sensor patent abstract is below:
A method of forming a curved touch surface is disclosed. The method can include depositing and patterning a conductive thin film on a flexible substrate to form at least one touch sensor pattern, while the flexible substrate is in a flat state. According to certain embodiments, the method can include supporting the flexible substrate in the flat state on at least one curved forming substrate having a predetermined curvature; and performing an anneal process, or an anneal-like high-heat process, on the conductive thin film, wherein the anneal process can cause the flexible substrate to conform to the predetermined curvature of the at least one curved forming substrate. According to an embodiment, the curved forming substrate can include a first forming substrate having a first predetermined curvature and a second forming substrate having a second predetermined curvature complementing the first predetermined curvature.
Flexible Sapphire Display Made with Liquidmetal (Is Possible)
Apple has been dealing with screen technology issues and one way to remedy this problem is through one of their recently awarded patents filed in Europe. The flexible transparent sapphire wraparound display patent might have been the cure needed to address screen flexibility issues Apple has been experiencing. According to the patent, Apple’s sapphire and transparent display would be made using an alumina powder liquidmetal process and could be used in smartphones as well as devices like smartwatches. Liquidmetal might be making its first major appearance in Apple iOS devices via the iWatch. Below are some highlights of the patent:
The device may display content that moves or that remains at a fixed location on the surface of the flexible display layer. For example, the electronic device may display pages of content on the display layer in response to tilt events or other motions of the device.
The electronic device may also adjust scrolling activity and other on-screen content motions based on detected device rotation and other measured movement of the device.
The flexible wraparound display device would still feature a touchscreen, accelerometer, gyroscope and other sensors for user input
iWatch Yield and Battery Life Issues and Sapphire Attachment Technique
The iWatch design team has been working feverishly to address battery life and display issues. The curved, flexible iWatch display has been giving Apple fits for sometime. The battery life has been less than desirable as Apple is attempting to extend the battery life to 4 to 5 days without a charge. The smartwatch battery life issues date back to the middle of 2013. Apple is focused on implementing a longer-lasting battery that would allow the device to live without charge for up to five days. In addition to the battery and display issues Apple lost a key member of the iWatch team Bryan James, who left in January to join Nest Labs.
I believe the recent wave of sapphire patents filed by Apple over the last month stemmed from Apple’s focus on resolving the flexible screen and battery life issues. The iWatch will spend a significant amount of time under the hot sun compared to a iPhone, which will result in increased heat coming to the device, which could be contributing to the battery life issues Apple has been reporting. One of Apple’s most recent patents entitled “Attachment technique,” describes the sapphire mounting process as well as using sapphire as a heat spreader to dissipate heat generated by the processor. My takeaway, this critical patent will be deployed on the iWatch to help push heat away from the processor, which will help improve the overall battery life. Below is an excerpt from the attachment technique patent:
0025] With particular reference to sapphire, the presently discussed techniques allows the effective use of sapphire in a variety of different applications without the risks associated with conventional attachment techniques. For example, sapphire may effectively be attached to a frame of a mobile computing device as a cover glass for a display screen. Additionally, as sapphire’s thermal conductivity is on the order of metals, it may effectively be implemented as a heat spreader. That is, sapphire may be attached both mechanically and thermally to a processor. More specifically, a sapphire substrate may be used as a processor mount to dissipate heat generated by the processor.
 Referring to FIGS. 1A and 1B, an example mobile computing device 100 is illustrated. The mobile computing device 100 includes a first side 102 that may include a transparent cover 104. In some embodiments, the transparent cover 104 may take the form of a sapphire sheet, a sapphire sheet with a glass laminate layer, a plastic, or other suitable material, through which a visual output of the device 100 is output. Additionally, the cover 104 may be configured to receive input from users via a capacitive sensor, for example. A second side 106 (FIG. 1B) of the mobile computing device 100 includes a camera with a cover 108. As with the transparent cover 104 of the first side 102, the cover 108 may take any suitable form, such a sapphire.
GT Advanced Technologies: Will supply Sapphire and Solar Cells to Apple? (Very Likely & Possible)
GT Advanced Technologies will be supplying sapphire displays for Apple’s up coming iPhones, but is there more to this cover story beyond sapphire? Apple is big on green energy and is already leveraging solar power supply for several large facilities (data center, corporate headquarters, etc) being constructed today. GT is very familiar to solar technology and after review of their recent patents it appears likely that they will be entering the super thin-film marketplace, for the solar industry and consumer electronics.
In one of my most recent publications at Seeking Alpha I went into depth how GT is positioning themselves to electrify the Mobile World. GT Advanced Technologies’ (GTAT) epitaxial growth on thin lamina patent was published on 2/6/14. Epitaxy is defined as the growth of a thin layer on the surface of a crystal so that the layer of growth has the same structure as the underlying crystal. GT’s patent essentially enables the growth of a semiconductor material on a donor body, by firing GT’s Hyperion’s ion cannon which splits (exfoliates) the semiconductor material from the donor body, to form a super thin lamina (layer) of the semiconductor material. The resulting lamina from the first process can be exfoliated by Hyperion a second time to form an additional semiconductor lamina.
One of the most interesting findings within this patent was related to PV (photovoltaic), specifically the creation of a triple junction PV cell and the ability to incorporate the thin (PV cell) lamina into an electronic device. Not only does GT have the ability to create thin-film solar cells but they also have the ability to stack the thin-film solar cells to form a triple junction PV cell that is still less than 25 microns thick before it is incorporated into an electronic device all while rocking a 40%+ efficiency rating. Below are some details from the epitaxial growth on thin lamina patent.
In some embodiments a triple junction PV cell may be fabricated with lamina such as a germanium lamina
The combined thickness of the lamina and epitaxial layer may be between about 2 microns and about 25 microns such as between 15 and 25 microns. One, two or more additional layers may be formed on the either surface of the lamina/epitaxial layer assembly before incorporating the lamina into an electronic device.
Full Disclosure I am long GTAT and have no plans to buy or sell any holdings in the next 72 hours.