A recent patent filing gives a glimpse of next-gen Apple Watch gestures — and potential social distancing practices — as we move into a post-pandemic state of mind. Spoiler alert: the future of wearable tech might be full of hot air. In a good way, though.
According to Apple’s latest patent filing, it outlines a detailed system for “detecting blow events,” a phrase that is thankfully clarified by the end of the sentence it’s introduced in. Specifically, this refers to an Apple gadget “switching between different modes... based on detected blow events.”
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Originally spotted by Apple Insider (opens in new tab), the patent reveals some interesting implications about the next crop of Apple Watches. Basically, you could politely puff at your puny timepiece to perform different functions, such as answering a call, pausing a song or viewing pop-up notifications. In essence, this is 4D gesture controls via exhalation.
It’s worth noting that Jiang Wang is listed as the patent’s inventor. Wang has worked on Apple sensor tech in the past for both iOS and watchOS, which gives patent a little extra weight. (It should also be noted that this concept isn’t entirely new; Nintendo used the microphones on the Nintendo DS to have users blow at the system to accomplish tasks in certain games.)
According to the patent itself, here’s what Apple is going for: an “electronic device” with some kind of “blow detection assembly” to interpret commands. In short, you blow on your watch and the built-in pressure sensors detect your breath, triggering the device to respond accordingly.
What does that mean for iPhone users, exactly? Let’s say you’re in the middle of a HIIT workout when you get a call. Your hands are filled with dumbbells and raw motivation. So, what do you do? Well, with just a few paltry puffs on your wrist, the Apple Watch’s pressure sensors could activate the “answer call” command, letting you pack in peak performance and productivity without breaking your stride. (One short puff could answer the call, for example, and two puffs could end it. Like a reverse whistle, if you will.) I imagine this being useful for winter conditions, too, since your hands could stay snugly in gloves during below-freezing “blow event” interactions.
This particular functionality makes perfect sense in the time of COVID, in a weirdly progressive sort of way. And as smartwatches continue to gain prominence amongst jetsetting techies everywhere, there are only so many gesture controls that make organic sense for daily use. Heck, I pulled the trigger on a Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 just the other week, since I was getting too impatient waiting for the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4.
There’s going to be a learning curve, as my fellow New Yorkers will bizarrely whisper-spitting at their wrists between subway stations. Still, this is just the kind of mobile tech that can be utilized to enhance our sanitation habits in a post-vaccination world.
And not for nothing, but smartphone/smartwatch screens are straight-up packed with germs and bacteria. One study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found screens to be 7 times dirtier than the average toilet seat (opens in new tab).
As of this writing, over 4.2 million vaccine doses have been administered in the five boroughs, with President Biden’s team looking to vaccinate 100 million Americans by July. And to keep the next pandemic at bay, we will inevitably need to reevaluate our day-to-day health practices once we’re allowed to properly socialize again. And while bubble-boy helmets are yet to catch on in that regard, I predict a not-so-distant future where our society remains vigilant about personal space long after COVID is under control. Handshakes and hugs are already starting to feel archaic, and contactless everything will take the world by storm.