Apple Rings and Things

Apple Ponders Whether to Develop Smart Glasses, Fitness Ring
Apple has explored the idea of developing new wearable devices — including a fitness ring, smart glasses and even AirPods with cameras — to broaden one of its most important business areas. Also: Hear the latest on a HomePod with a screen, Apple’s new Sports app, an iMessage security upgrade and the departure of a key AirPods executive.

There is a lot in Gurman's latest newsletter – including an update on an HomePod with a screen not coming until 2025 at the earliest, better late than never, I guess – but the real meat lies with the possibility of two new Apple products, a ring and smart glasses.

On the ring:

Let’s begin with the hypothetical ring, which would be focused on health and fitness. There are many people who buy the Apple Watch for health tracking. They want to monitor their heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, calories burned and steps taken. And there’s an overlap between that group and people who don’t necessarily want the other bells and whistles of an Apple Watch — like apps and phone calls.

There are also millions of people who don’t want an Apple Watch because they prefer traditional wristwatches or don’t like wearing one at all. Or they dread the idea of having another device that needs nightly charging.

For a long while, I've been in the camp thinking that Apple probably doesn't do a smart ring, despite the success of Oura, because the Apple Watch already does all of what those devices do – and a lot more. But I think the Apple Watch is now mature enough of a product that I'm going to do a 180 here. I think Apple should do a ring for the reasons noted above.

The Apple Watch has now settled into its own as a fitness device, and a lot of what it does actually doesn't require a screen in real time. Instead, wouldn't it be great to get all that data and insight after a run or a sleep and have it sync back to your main hub, the iPhone? And actually, the relatively large screen and constant notifications of the Apple Watch is an annoyance for some would-be users (such as my wife). And yes, there are those people who love their mechanical watches but would love the benefits that Apple offers without having to wear a watch on each wrist, which some people actually do!

Anyway, as a happy Apple Watch wearer since day one (well, happier over time), I'm not in these camps, but I now see these camps quite clearly. And again, the Apple Watch is now a fairly mature platform and product – to the point where the Apple Watch Ultra 2 was basically no different at all from the first version – so it feels like the timing could be right to venture out.

An 'Apple Ring' could almost be an 'Apple Watch Mini' or 'Apple Watch Nano?' as it were. And while it's certainly possible that Apple creates a product to extend the Apple Watch line that's more akin to what Fitbit has done with their line of "trackers", I think a Ring could make a lot of sense. The problem now is that "the ring idea is just that — an idea. The company isn’t actively developing such a device," according to Gurman. So how long would it take to actually launch such a product from start to finish? Presumably two years at least. More likely 3 to 4 if they start now. So we're looking at a 2026, 2027, or 2028 launch? Will we already be on to neural interface devices (the wearable kind, not implanted) by then?1

One more thing Gurman doesn't mention but could be key in this space: how do future Apple Watches and/or Rings help augment the Vision Pro devices? Apple's first stab at hand-tracking is great. But if millions of would-be users already have an Apple Watch or this theoretical Apple Ring, might that not be an interesting way to interact with the device? Perhaps with more clarity and fewer cameras?

As for 'Apple Glasses':

The situation with glasses is similar. True augmented reality spectacles — ones that would meet Apple’s standards for visual quality, performance, battery life and size — are likely still several years away. But a less ambitious product could still be functional, as Amazon and Meta have shown with their second versions of the Echo Frames and Ray-Ban Smart Glasses.

After the initial versions of those products flopped, the latest iterations have sold better than the companies expected. It seems that consumers are increasingly comfortable with using smart glasses for taking video, playing music and giving voice commands to chatbots. And Meta is already rolling out features to its glasses that will enable the device to identify objects and answer questions based on what a wearer is looking at.

I've been surprised that these devices are having any sort of success – certainly after initially flopping, as Gurman notes – but I have been intrigued by this form factor since the Snap Spectacles. Probably not a surprise, since I wear glasses full time, but the reality of this general space remains that people aren't going to wear scuba masks out and about. Any product that works here beyond the home has to be "normal looking". And with Meta's Ray-Ban collaboration at least, AI has seemingly changed the equation and game.

How could Apple approach the market? Well, the company has had early discussions about creating glasses that would serve as an AirPods replacement — but with beefier batteries, more sensors and broader AI capabilities. That would mean people wouldn’t have to wear their AirPods (though they could use them for higher-quality audio) while still staying entrenched in an Apple interface all day long.

I've long thought about the notion that Apple has all these great audible cues as a part of iOS but most of us never hear/use them because we have our phones on mute most of the time (if you don't, you're that person in the cafe everyone is constantly looking at). AirPods allow you to experience this full "vision" Apple has for their device, but even I, as the most ardent AirPod-wearer I know, don't wear them 24/7. An Apple Glasses product which "frees" your ears is interesting in that respect. But also with whatever they're doing with AI per the Meta point above.

The bigger picture is that Apple needs to get a future Vision Pro closer to this form factor than its current one. And so perhaps they can work on it from the top and bottom? Gurman notes the Glasses are at least "in an exploratory phase known as 'technology investigation' within Apple’s hardware engineering division." In other words, a step closer to reality than any Apple Ring device. But still undoubtedly years away, if they ever come.

As for the "AirPods with cameras idea"? Please don't do that, Apple.

1 I was an investor in CTRL Labs before it was acquired by Facebook back in 2019. They were early, but also clearly on the right path towards where this all seems to be going now...