As nectar was to the Greek gods, patents are to the tech industry.
It's not atypical for big players – your Googles, Apples, Microsofts – to add thousands of them to their portfolios every year. While many are granted only to remain unused, the most interesting ones offer sneak peaks at possible future products.
Apple may not lead the tech pack in terms of quantity, but many of its patents have a distinctive 'it' factor. For example, take Apple's patent for earbuds that – get this – actually stay in your ears! (Apple seems to have followed through on this one.)
If we had our way, the company would consider doing the same on all seven patents listed below.
1. A smart ring
We finally have an Apple Watch – are other accessories far behind? Perhaps not, judging from an Apple patent filed last April and published yesterday.
The patent outlines plans to develop a smart, interactive ring that syncs with other Apple devices such as the iPhone or iPad, and can alert the wearer when a text, tweet or status update is received. In the place of a traditional jewel or stone, there is a touchpad touchscreen and the ring could also include a microphone for picking up voice commands.
Why a ring when consumers can already purchase an Apple smartwatch and a smartphone? "The light emitted by a touchscreen may be inappropriate in certain social environments or even dangerous if it gives away the position of a threatened user," the application reads.
More practically, a smart ring would eliminate the need for constant phone checking. While some may argue this would bind us even more tightly to technology, it could also be liberating.
2. A battery that lasts days (or even weeks)
Filed in March and already approved, this patent for a "portable and cost-effective fuel cell system for a portable computing device" suggests the tech giant is exploring ways to increase battery life for its array of devices.
The referenced fuel cells, which most often combine hydrogen with oxygen to create electrical energy, can be far more efficient than other battery types, potentially enabling "continued operation of portable electronic devices for days or even weeks without refueling," Apple notes in the patent.
Even if Apple does pursue this patent, it'll likely be awhile until it's incorporated into consumer products. But that doesn't mean that a day-long – nay, week-long – battery life is an impossibility -- just that it hasn't happened yet.
3. Biometric-tracking headphones
Approved last winter but originally filed back in 2008, this patent refers to a headphone system with built in sensors that can detect a wearer's heart rate, temperature and perspiration to track his or her movements and activity level.
This sounds pretty cool -- but also kind of creepy, especially when you pair it with another one of Apple's patent applications, which lays out plans to serve consumers targeted ads based on their biometric data.
4. Waterproof electronics
In March, Apple applied for a patent that details plans to protect "water sensitive" electronics parts by coating them with a hydrophobic coating. Water-resistant iGadgets? Yes, please.
5. A 'walk-and-text' feature
Back in 2012, Apple filed a patent for a "transparent based" texting system that would, presumably, streamline the difficult process of texting while walking. The idea is fairly simple: when an iPhone user texts, the device will display video images of what's directly in front him or her (captured by its rear-facing camera), with semi-transparent text bubbles replacing the typical opaque texting backdrop.
It's a silly one, yes, but we'd still want to see it in action.
6. Voicemail screener
Originally filed all the way back in 2003, last year Apple was finally granted a patent that would enable iPhone users to listen to voicemails as they're being left, with the option to pick up mid-message. Almost takes you back to the landline era.
Losing your car in a crowded parking lot is a uniquely hellish experience. It's frustrating, but it also makes you feel kinda dumb.
As with the other listed items, a pair of patents filed in 2013 suggests Apple may be working to solve an all-too-common problem. The patents detail how an iPhone could establish a Bluetooth connection with a car and, using triggers such as open doors or shuttered ignitions, determine where it is parked and guide its owner to the location via digital breadcrumbs.