The rumored Apple ring could let you feel objects in the Vision Pro

 Apple smart ring.
Apple smart ring.

Recently, there’s been talk of Apple experimenting with the idea of a smart ring to rival the likes of Oura and Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Ring.

While that got our minds running with ideas of things we’d like to see from an Apple Ring, one angle we hadn’t considered is its applications in the brave new world of augmented reality — but it seems the Cupertino crew has.

A new patent, spotted by Apple Insider, outlines how sensors could be worn on the fingers for better hand detection in headsets like the Vision Pro, and a couple of these examples include rings.

“Electronic equipment such as computers and head-mounted display systems are sometimes controlled using input-output devices such as gloves,” reads the patent, titled “Finger-Mounted Device with Sensors and Haptics”.

While gloves would seem the most obvious solution, these have pretty obvious drawbacks. "If care is not taken, a device such as a glove may affect the ability of a user to feel objects in the user's surroundings, may be uncomfortable to use, or may not gather suitable input from the user.”

Apple's latest patent
Apple's latest patent

The alternative to gloves is a “wearable device such as a finger-mounted device [that] may be used to gather input from a user's fingers as the user interacts with surfaces in the user's environment and may be used to provide clicks and other haptic output during these interactions.”

In other words, if you tap a virtual keyboard with a finger, a vibration in the corresponding finger might make you feel like you’ve actually touched a real keyboard. It could also make virtual reality experiences more immersive — you could ‘feel’ the catching of a digital ball, for example.

Don’t put a ring on it

Some of the images in the patent correspond to rings, but others show fingertip sensors, and it seems likely that Apple would favor the latter if this was ever introduced as an accessory for the Vision Pro 2 in the distant future.

The main reason is that for full hand dexterity, you’d need ten smart rings, one for each finger and thumb. No doubt Apple would be delighted if its die-hard fans felt like spending that much, but it doesn’t feel like a recipe for mass adoption.

It seems more likely that this would be a whole unrelated ring-shaped accessory sold as a set, rather than the rumored smart ring. But even then, having to slip on ten rings every time you boot up Vision Pro sounds like a bar to regular usage, too.

Apple's latest patent
Apple's latest patent

Having said that, it’s not clear that ten fingertip sensors would be any less onerous to apply regularly. Say what you like about the discomfort and inflexibility of gloves, but there are, at most, two of them for a user to grapple with.

On the other hand (pun intended), there is one usage where a smart ring would fit quite nicely. The patent briefly mentions how a finger could be “used as a pointing device” or “as a joystick” to “control on-screen cursor or other adjustable system feature in a device”.

That would obviously only require one smart ring for one digit, and that feels perfectly believable as a perk for theoretical smart ring buyers. But Apple has indeed already solved this problem with the Apple Vision Pro, thanks to its eye tracking and finger gestures.

But the bottom line to remember here is this is just a patent. Apple patents an awful lot of things, and as Bloomberg's Mark Gurman mentioned in his recent report, the idea of a ring is just that — an idea, which isn't in active development.

Hand tracking isn’t the main issue facing Vision Pro right now. In fact, it's one of the device's strengths, so while the innovations described here may one day emerge in a commercially available product, it’s far from guaranteed.