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Evidence that Apple has been working on a smart watch concept since at least 2011 has emerged in a US Patent Office filing.

The document describes a flexible touchscreen display which would communicate with a smartphone or other electronic device.

It coincides with a report from a tech consultancy suggesting there is huge pent up demand for such a gadget.

But ABI Research warns that battery life issues still need to be addressed.

It says assuming such problems can be resolved, about 485 million wearable computing devices might ship by 2018, providing a significant growth opportunity for Apple and the wider consumer electronics industry.

Not all published patents lead to actual products, but Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have all published reports this month saying sources had confirmed Apple was experimenting with a watch-like device.

The US Patent Office only revealed Apple’s filing on Thursday, but the document dates back to August 2011.

The mooted device is likened to a “slap wrap” – a thin strip of metal covered in fabric which snapped around the user’s wrist to form a bracelet.

The toy was popular with teenagers in the late-1980s, but fell out of favor after complaints that it lost its ability to retain its shape over time,. There were also complaints that some users had experienced injuries after the fabric wore away to reveal a sharp metal edge.

Apple puts a hi-tech spin on the idea proposing a “slap bracelet” featuring a flexible circuit board and display, a touch sensitive user interface and a two-way communication chip, which would curl around the user’s skin.

It suggests the gadget could detect which part of its surface was covered so that its readout would be limited to the exposed screen, with information flowing over the join.

Evidence that Apple has been working on a smart watch concept since at least 2011 has emerged in a US Patent Office filing

Evidence that Apple has been working on a smart watch concept since at least 2011 has emerged in a US Patent Office filing

Apple suggests lights along the device’s edge could be programmed to blink when the user receives an alert, before displaying the details on its screen.

It says the user could then provide a brief response or use the bracelet to command a wirelessly connected smartphone, tablet or laptop to carry out another function such as adjusting the order of a song playlist or reviewing what recent calls had been made.

Apple acknowledges that the relatively thin nature of a wrist band would limit its uses, but suggests a wider armband could also be developed.

“At the width of a few inches the display can function to temporarily view and manipulate the screen of the portable device it is in communication with,” says the paper.

“This might be desirable when the portable electronic device is stored in an inconvenient location such as a cargo pocket, or the bottom of a backpack.

“A larger display is also more desirable for map viewing… as a traveller or explorer can easily reference the information with a flick of the wrist while exploring.”

ABI Research notes that several companies already sell smart watches – such as Fossil, Pebble and Sony – while others (including Samsung and Martian) are known to be working on such products,

For the time being, however, it says the sector is dominated instead by activity trackers – such as Nike’s Fuelband and the Garmin Forerunner – which account for an estimated 61% of the wearable tech market.

Some of these devices do tell the time, but they only offer limited functionality beyond monitoring exercise or the owner’s sleep pattern.

The consultants instead suggest a much wider range of uses giving the example of linking the watch to a home automation system so that “a quick shake of your wrist can turn off/on room lights”.

The idea of a smartwatch has been around for years – but the firm says technology only recently caught up with our imagination.

“Moore’s law has driven silicon to the point where it’s small enough and powerful enough to drive applications that mean things to consumers,” said ABI’s chief research officer, Stuart Carlaw.

“Bluetooth Smart has also brought us high-bandwidth, low-energy connectivity at a less than a dollar a chip and takes up little space while offering robust performance.

“But one note of caution is that when we look at wearable technologies the use of power becomes an issue. You don’t want to have to be plugging in four or five products a night to recharge – energy harvesting or wireless recharging technologies are going to become incredibly important.”

Apple’s patent confirms the company is aware of the problem.

It suggests harvesting energy from the movement of the user’s arms and only coming out of standby mode when a sensor detects the device has been rotated to face a certain way.

It adds that the use of an AMOLED (active matrix light emitting diode) display would also help since it can allow individual pixels to be turned off, allowing the watch to only activate the parts which are facing the owner’s eyes.

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Google has announced that it does not want the ruling in the Apple-Samsung patent lawsuit to “limit” consumers’ access to Android devices.

A US jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple over $1 billion on Friday after ruling it had infringed several of the iPhone maker’s software and design innovations.

Samsung said it intended to appeal.

There has been speculation that the news could encourage handset makers to install the rival Windows Phone system.

Google released its statement late on Sunday in the US.

“The court of appeals will review both infringement and the validity of the patent claims,” it said.

“Most of these don’t relate to the core Android operating system, and several are being re-examined by the US Patent Office.

“The mobile industry is moving fast and all players – including newcomers – are building upon ideas that have been around for decades. We work with our partners to give consumers innovative and affordable products, and we don’t want anything to limit that.”

Google has announced that it does not want the ruling in the Apple-Samsung patent lawsuit to "limit" consumers' access to Android devices

Google has announced that it does not want the ruling in the Apple-Samsung patent lawsuit to "limit" consumers' access to Android devices

Apple has indicated it will seek sales bans on the 17 phones at the heart of the lawsuit at a hearing on 20 September.

The list does not include Samsung’s current flagship handset, the Galaxy S3, but does include earlier versions of the model.

However, Apple could also use the verdict to try to halt sales of other models that infringe its pinch-to-zoom patent.

During the court case Apple revealed it had licensed some of its technologies to Microsoft. Its lawyers also showed pictures of Nokia’s Lumia – which runs Windows Phone 7 – as an example of a handset that looked distinctive from its own.

In contrast, Apple continues to be involved in lawsuits against two other Android-handset makers: Motorola – which is owned by Google – and HTC.

Following the Samsung verdict, Bill Cox, marketing director for Microsoft’s Windows Phone Division tweeted: “Windows Phone is looking gooooood right now.”

Dell, HTC, Samsung, LG and ZTE have already created Windows Phone 7 devices, but only Nokia has concentrated its efforts on the system.

One analyst said that the US ruling presented Microsoft with an opportunity to convince others to put their weight behind the next version of its mobile system.

“I think this will force a reset on Android products as they are re-engineered to get around Apple’s patents,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the tech consultancy Enderle Group.

“[It should also] provide a stronger opportunity for both of Microsoft’s new platforms – Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 – because they come with indemnification against Apple, suddenly making them far safer.”

However, manufacturers will have to weigh up Android’s popularity before making a move.

According to recent data from analysts at IDC, Android had a 68.1% of the global smartphone market between April and June. Apple’s iOS had 16.9% and Windows Phone/Windows Mobile had 5.4%. The data was based on shipments rather than sales.

If Apple’s patents hold up under appeal Google could recode Android to ensure there was no potential infringement, or handset makers could seek to pay their rival a licence fee.

And there is another alternative: Apple could ultimately seek a patent cross-licensing deal with Google despite its late chief executive Steve Jobs’ vow to “destroy Android”.

Part-way through the Samsung case Google filed its first lawsuit versus Apple since taking over Motorola. It alleged seven patent infringements, one of which involves the technology used in the iPhone’s Siri voice-activated search tool.

Were Google to succeed it could call for a import ban on Apple’s iOS products, potentially forcing its rival into a deal.

The case is driving share prices in a number of technology stocks.

Samsung’s shares fell 7.5% in Seoul on Monday – their biggest drop since October 2008, wiping about $12 billion off the companies value.

Nokia’s shares rose about 10% on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

In New York, Apple’s stock was about 2% higher in pre-market trade, Microsoft’s about 1% up and Google’s about 1% down.