Apple’s ‘finger devices’ patent application could signal a solution to various consumer tech challenges. One is the need for a non-obtrusive device that would help users manipulate and interact with objects in the real world. Another is the need to broaden AR/VR experiences beyond the visual.
For example, a finger device might allow the user of a smart speaker to select a volume setting from a virtual dial — using only a casual finger gesture — without needing a relatively obtrusive wearable (like a smartwatch) or reaching for a phone.
The patent describes a device that would track a finger’s movements and muscle contractions, allowing someone to manipulate and rotate objects in AR or VR environments (or virtual menus and interfaces). In turn, the device would be able to provide stimuli to the finger in the form of “haptic output.” In other words, the device would vibrate or press against or push against the finger in a way that would simulate contact with the object or physical environment.
Another part of the patent application mentions the finger devices’ integration with a head-mounted device (many tech observers are anticipating augmented reality glasses from Apple in late 2020 or next year).
Why the finger? Why Apple?
This makes sense for Apple. The company has made a vocal bet on devices like the AirPods, which exploit Apple’s custom-made chips built to process data and information locally rather than transit them to the cloud. This computing model is ideal for a device, which like AirPods (or finger devices), meant to offer the user immediate control and feedback, without any latency.
Finally, the fingertip is a bold bet and intuitively a valuable location for a wearable. We tap, type, grip, and swipe with our fingertips hundreds of not thousands of times a day.