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.
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.