Apple has filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (via CNET) titled "Computer Systems With Finger Devices." The filing reveals a finger-worn device with a touch sensor that could be used to control objects on a Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality screen. This device can also feature haptic feedback that the user would feel. The patent application foresees this technology being used in conjunction with a head-mounted AR device. That could refer to a mixed reality headset that Apple is rumored to be developing for 2022 with the long-awaited Apple Glasses being released the following year. The sensors that come with the device could include force sensors, ultrasonic sensors, inertial measurement units, optical sensors, and other components
Sketches that accompany the application show that the finger device would be about the size of a fingernail. Another image shows how the volume on a HomePod smart speaker could be changed by a user turning a virtual volume control while wearing the finger-worn device.
Some analysts expect Apple Glasses to be released as soon as this year
Last November, Apple employees reportedly learned about Apple's AR and VR devices to be released in 2022-2023. Developers are supposed to start meeting with Apple next year about creating applications for the mixed reality headset. As for the Apple Glasses, the wearable supposedly goes by the codename T288 and will employ new software said to be called rOS for reality operating system. An earlier rumor called for the device to employ a 5nm chipset. The first Apple chip to be manufactured using that process node will be the A14 Bionic which will be rolling off TSMC's assembly line halfway through 2020.
Not everyone expects Apple to offer two different devices and some believe that the Glasses could be launched as soon as the middle of this year. The timing would just work out with TSMC beginning mass production of 5nm chips at that time. Apple has high hopes for the device and many believe that it will eventually become the company's next big thing. Loup Ventures' Gene Munster said back in 2017 that Apple Glasses could be bigger than the iPhone. That might seem hard to believe, but then again how many people at the end of 2006 felt that Apple would soon have another device up its sleeve that would be bigger than the iPod.
For the Apple Glasses to be bigger than the iPhone, it will eventually have to be a standalone device. Right now, most analysts believe that at first, Apple Glasses will need to pair with an iPhone in order to work. As recently as last November, both reliable TF International analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and other sources were calling for a 2020 release of the new product. Kuo, who has an absolutely amazing track record making forecasts about unannounced Apple devices, said that the wearable could be released in the second quarter of this year. That might coincide with the release of the Apple iPhone 9 (aka the iPhone SE 2) and new iPad models. On the other hand, there haven't been any renders of the device or the kind of leaks you might see if the Glasses were to be unveiled in just two or three months.
The Glasses would no doubt be part of Apple's red hot Wearables, Home and Accessories unit which saw revenue soar 54% on an annual basis during its fiscal fourth quarter. The division generated $6.52 billion in revenue from July through September thanks to the strength of the Apple Watch and the AirPods wireless Bluetooth earbuds. The Apple Glasses could eventually take the wearables segment to another level.
If Apple uses the technology in the patent application, those wearing Apple Glasses could move around virtual objects they see through their lenses by using the finger device.