New Apple Watch Feature Could Form the Basis of the Company’s XR Input Strategy


This week Apple debuted new accessibility-focused features for iOS. Among them, the AssistiveTouch feature for Apple Watch allows for single-handed control of the watch by detecting clenching and pinching of the hand, as well as accelerometer-based control. The system looks awfully similar to work Apple and Facebook have done on XR input, and may prove a strong hint that Apple will lean into wrist-worn input for its rumored XR headset.

If you’ve been following along with the XR space, you’ll remember the research Facebook recently shared on its wrist-worn prototypes for XR input & haptics. Apple, while much more secretive about its R&D, has filed patents for similar XR input modalities which use micro-gestures from the hand to control interactive content.

This week the company revealed new accessibilities features for iOS devices, including an AssistiveTouch feature for Apple Watch which bares a striking resemblance to the XR input work seen recently by Apple and Facebook, at least in an early form.

Here the company demonstrates the use of fist clenching and pinching as distinct commands for making selects on the watch. Another feature allows a cursor to be called forth and controlled using accelerometer data.

While these inputs are low fidelity compared to what would be ideal for input with an XR headset, Apple says that even its current generation watches can “detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity.” More precise sensing of this sort seems to be exactly what Apple and fellow tech-giant Facebook are counting on as the future of XR input which can be discreet enough to work in a wide range of use-cases, including on-the-go and in public.

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Another Apple patent shows that the company has been investigating the use of head-worn haptics as a means of helping users navigate inside of XR experiences. The patent specifically notes that such haptics could either be in a headset itself, or in a pair of earbuds…. future versions of Apple Watch and AirPods could cover a wide range of input and output for Apple’s rumored upcoming XR headset.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Interesting…

  • Phenomenal if this really works!

    • Debbie Rios

      Lyla previous six weeks l earned $19562 by working on my computer staying at my home in my free hours.(r1327) I’m able how to do it by working few time in whole day with my laptop. Realy it’s very easy & everyone definetly can join this work. >>>

  • Matthe

    If I lose one of my hands I will definitely buy this watch.

  • TechPassion

    Stupid idea to if you have to make such uncomfortable hand gestures. This silly company does not understand AR and VR. Cook is such a total loser. Steve was the man!

    • Lance Larsen

      Wow… totally disagree — and this is just the beginning — AND don’t have to buy a new device to do this, all up side.

    • Yen

      Stupid comment if you don’t understand this is for people with only one hand. But in the future could have a version for VR.

  • Geoff

    For those with one hand, a disability, or working on equipment, being able to control your watch by simple wrist and hand gestures is rather smart. I like it, although would probably not use it myself.

  • Orion Willow Parrott

    I wouldn’t say this is just for people with one hand. Plenty of uses even for able persons who happen to have their hands full. Safer to use while driving because you could turn off an alert without letting go of the wheel. Or maybe you’re walking down the street holding a coffee in the other hand and want to answer the phone.