Will Apple Launch A Smart Ring In 2024?
Will Apple Launch A Smart Ring In 2024?

Following Samsung’s recent Galaxy Ring unveil, Apple might be in for some serious wearable-tech FOMO at today’s annual shareholder meeting

Apple’s Vision Pro mixed-reality headset launched earlier this month to an explosive response across its launch market in the US, flagging excited cheers from Apple fans, mixed opinions from early reviewers with comfort and durability issues, and an immediate response from XR rivals LG and Meta. While both tech giants are slated to meet this week in South Korea, Apple currently sits on the top of the still-nascent world of ‘extended reality’ and the wearables market — though another development from Seoul threatens to unseat everyone’s favourite Californian megafirm.


The Samsung Ring is pretty much what it says on the tin; revealed at this week’s ongoing Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona, it’s a sensor-laden ring capable of unobtrusively tracking metrics such as sleep, heartrate, breathing patterns and movement, which it transmits to a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. 


This isn’t anything particularly ground-breaking, considering that products such as the Oura Ring are in their third generation as of 2024, and offer largely the same functionality. Even Amazon offered the Echo Loop in 2019; and while it generated little fanfare on the market as an ‘unrefined, first-generation’ product, Apple was eager to take a peek next door and make some notes.


Apple was granted 2,536 US patents last year, surpassed by only six other companies, according to IFI Claims Patent Services | Image Credits: Apple Inc.


In the tech world, it’s a fair bet that patents will precede product launches. While this isn’t true 100% of the time, it certainly seems to be a signature of Apple, who filed several patents related to the Apple Watch before its official announcement and release.


One of the key patents that laid the groundwork for the Apple Watch was filed on April 11, 2011. This patent, titled ‘Bi-stable spring with flexible display’, describes a wearable electronic device with a flexible display, which can conform to the user's wrist, a concept that aligns closely with the design and functionality of the Apple Watch — about four years before the product went live. It's some coincidence, then, that Samsung’s unveil took place a comparable timeframe away from Apple’s 2019-granted patent, titled ‘wearable electronic ring computing device’. 


The device — a chunky ring featuring a mini-touchscreen, microphone, processor, wireless system and sensor array — seems to have been designed as a secondary interface for MacBook and iPhone users, allowing them to use Siri and hand gestures. Kind of like an Apple Watch.




Since the pandemic, things have evolved slightly. The device pictured above had documents describing cameras, voice commands, and even clever NFC tricks such as handshakes to authenticate payments. Apple’s next ring-related application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed a smaller, sleeker concept, the ‘ring input device with pressure-sensitive input’. It seems to reflect the company’s learnings from its growing experience in the wearables market — one that had grown from 5% to 10% since its launch in the mid-2010s.


One of the interesting use-case scenarios for the ‘Apple Ring’ is as a supplement for the Apple Vision Pro — allowing for even more XR interactivity | Image Credits: Apple Inc., uspto.gov


The 2023 gadget introduced an ‘electronic jewel system’ on the top of the device; a compact unit that’s intended to house touch sensors, storage for onboard software, haptic feedback generators, and more. Curiously, the ring features a rotating outer band possibly inspired by Apple’s development of the ‘crown’ scroll, who’s firmware engineer Michael Beyhs is credited on the patent document. This adds an entirely new physical interactive system to Apple’s growing roster of touchpads, digital pens, gesture-controlled devices, magic mice and more.


Most importantly, it signifies Apple’s first step in truly differentiating itself from its competitors — cleverly integrating an unobtrusive interface system that plays on how human beings tend to fidget with rings. "Some people see innovation as change,” said Tim Cook at George Washington University, just a month after launching the Apple Watch in 2015. “We have never really seen it like that. It’s [about] making things better."


The Samsung Galaxy Experience Booth at MWC 2024 focused largely on mobile AI innovations — a major selling point for the new S24 platform | Image Credits: Samsung


Apple’s rush to the spotlight with the Vision Pro didn’t come easy — leaks in 2023 revealed that the company had to rearrange its workforce to divert software and hardware staff to the XR headset project. Software, in particular, was hampered with one of the quietest update schedules in Apple’s recent history — though fans of the iPhone 15 lineup, Apple Watch Ultra and M2 Macbooks had a great year.


And so, it’s easy to understand Apple’s apprehension with putting a ring on it. Tech development at this scale is to some extent a resources game; and a risky one at that. The winnings seem big though —  according to Pune-based research firm Business Research Insights, the smart ring market has been poised to grow from $20 million in 2022 to nearly $200 million by 2031. 


Samsung’s move to add rings to the Galaxy ecosystem brings the entire wearables industry a step closer to the critical mass required for an industry-wide snowball effect, but as we saw with smartwatches, it may come down to how Apple decides to play their card and win over fans from the Android camp. Dr. Hon Pak, Samsung's vice president and head of the digital health team, even addressed this to CNET at the MWC this week. “We recognise the iOS/Android challenge, and we ultimately hope that our devices are of such calibre that people will be willing to switch,” Pak said. “And then beyond? I think it’s TBD.”


The Apple Ring concept is still, as far as confirmed news goes, only on paper. While each patent gets the firm closer to its dream of an all-encompassing tech ecosystem, we’re sure that the ring will, at the very least, be discussed at Apple’s Annual Shareholder Meeting this Wednesday. Let’s hope Cook’s as ready as we are for the next generation of wearables.

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