By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated February 03, 2014.
What could the innovative Apple offer in a smart watch that others aren’t offering? A new report suggests that the “wow” factor could be a device that uses new powering technology.
The report, in Sunday’s New York Times, said that the tech giant has been experimenting with new ways of powering a wrist-based device. These include solar charging to power the light in the screen, which is expected to be curved. Apple received attention last fall when it posted a job ad for engineers with expertise in solar energy.
The company has also been working on charging a battery through energy generated by movement, a technology that is already being used in some analog watches. The energy would be generated in a small charging mechanism that is powered by the swinging movement of an arm.
Apple has also been testing a method to charge a battery through magnetic induction, through which the phone is charged simply by laying it on a charging plate. The electrical current generates a magnetic field, which creates voltage. Nokia is already using such technology for some of its phones.
Other possibilities being investigated in Silicon Valley and elsewhere include a technology that utilizes piezoelectricity, created from the vibrations of some kinds of ceramics or crystals. One startup is developing lithium ion batteries that use polymer-coated silicon instead of carbon, resulting in a self-healing battery that has as much as 10 times the storage capacity of carbon. Researchers at the University of Washington are experimenting with the harvesting of energy from TV, cell and Wi-Fi signals already in the air, in order to power phone calls or text messages.
Even if alternative techniques for powering the device are not used, several possible innovative battery types could be employed. Samsung has introduced small curved batteries that fit inside wristbands and use solid rather than liquid electrolytes. Apple received a patent last summer for a flexible battery.
‘Wouldn’t Be Surprised’
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, noted that Apple “is known for entering a category already established with new technology.” He recalled that the iPod initially featured “a really, really small hard drive,” and the original iPhone was “the first to fully utilize a multi-touch screen.”
He said he “wouldn’t be surprised at all if Apple’s entry into smart watches involves technology we haven’t seen.” Greengart also suggested that the company could decide to offer “a lower-powered device,” with use cases developed for that level. Several companies, he noted, are already offering low-powered watches with limited capabilities, reminiscent of the limits of the first Mac, with its black-and-white screen.
But Greengart also said that if Apple did launch an iWatch with some highly innovative powering technology that dramatically changed the battery limitations of small devices, it could “be a game changer.”
Regardless of what happens on the power front, another report suggests that Apple intends to distinguish its iWatch through integrated health and fitness tracking. Such an application will be integrated into iOS 8, according to 9to5mac.com, which cites “sources briefed on the plans.”