Why Apple should make a Smart Ring

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Several companies have smart rings that compete with wearables like the Apple Watch. We explore why Apple should consider offering an Apple Ring.

Smart rings have been getting a lot of attention lately. Samsung presented its Galaxy Ring in March, and it just became available to pre-order. Several popular smart rings are already on the market, such as the Oura. They compete with some of the Apple Watch’s features, such as activity and sleep tracking. (Though, based on my own analysis, the Oura may not be very accurate as an activity tracker.)

Meanwhile, rumors suggest that Apple is working on a smart ring of its own; the company has reportedly investigated the idea for years. Even if you doubt the credibility of such rumors, one cannot dispute the fact that Apple owns numerous patents for smart ring technology. On the other hand, Apple spends a lot on research and development, and has many unused patents.

But given the interest in “smart” and AI-enhanced wearables, it might be time for Apple to ramp up its ring-related R&D and prepare to launch a new product. Here’s why an Apple Ring would be a great device to add to the company’s product line.

What is a smart ring?

A smart ring is a device worn on a finger that contains a number of sensors to track different health metrics. These generally include an accelerometer to track movement, heart rate and temperature sensors, blood oxygen sensors, and more, to track activity and sleep.

Smart rings contain fewer sensors than smart watches, but typically have a longer battery life because their only feature is tracking these metrics; they don’t have displays or run apps. One example is the Oura ring, which claims a battery life of up to seven days, depending on which features are enabled, compared to the Apple Watch which offers about 18 hours (Series 9) or up to 36 hours (Ultra 2) of battery life.

Why are smart rings practical?

The smart watch has become the standard device for tracking activity, sleep, and health. It’s easy to use and collects a lot of data. It is packed with additional features, providing notifications, phone calls, and messages, and onboard apps to perform many tasks. The Apple Watch is the best-known example, but many other manufacturers, including Samsung, also make smartwatches.

But smartwatches are bulky, may get in the way, and may not fit everyone’s look. When you’re running, cycling, or working out, you may be happy to wear your Apple Watch, but when you’re dressed for work or going out on the town, the banal look of a smartwatch might not suit you. Some people don’t like wearing watches at all, or can’t wear them, because of their profession. A ring is much easier to wear in many situations, and with all types of clothes.

Smartwatches are good at tracking sleep, but many people don’t want to wear them at night. They can be uncomfortable and can potentially even disturb your slumber. And what’s more, if your smartwatch’s battery is a bit old, and you don’t charge your watch at night, you may not have enough time in the morning to charge it before you head out to work.

What features could Apple include in a smart ring?

An Apple Ring could work in many ways. It could be a discreet device for people who want to track their activity during the day and their sleep at night. Combined with the iPhone, and potentially the Apple Watch, it would provide a larger set of data points that can be aggregated to refine activity tracking. You could wear the Apple Watch during the day and the Apple Ring at night, and they would seamlessly combine their data to provide a full picture of your day’s and night’s activity.

But an Apple Ring could go further. Given the size of the Touch ID sensor on iPads, it would be simple to add one to an Apple Ring. The Apple Ring would be an extension of Apple’s chain of trust, which allows you to perform secure activities with multiple devices. It would allow you to unlock a Mac, pay with Apple Pay, and authenticate you for other features. (In our coverage of RSA Conference 2023, we talked about a wearable ring for biometric multifactor authentication that we saw at the show.)

Apple could also add gesture controls to the ring, similar to the double-tap finger gesture available with the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, which could be a useful accessibility feature for some people with limited mobility. Perhaps they could even add a haptic engine to provide feedback for certain activities, such as confirmation of unlocking a device or making a payment, mile or kilometer splits when running, or even a simple tap on the hour.

The main reason Apple should make an Apple Ring

Apple doesn’t generally copy other companies, but Apple has invested a great deal into the health and activity features of the Apple Watch. Since other companies are coming out with smart rings, Apple may have to release one just so they can keep up with their competitors. Apple could leverage its expertise in wearables to make a superior product and gain market share.

Platform lock-in, and new revenue sources

As part of Apple’s platform lock-in strategy, getting people to buy an Apple Ring instead of, say, a Samsung or Oura ring, means they are more likely to continue buying iPhones, because of the tight integration into the Apple ecosystem.

It’s also a way for Apple to add a new device to its product portfolio. While there are no after-sales accessories for a smart ring as there are with Apple Watch bands, Apple could sell their ring in multiple finishes, at various price points. I wouldn’t expect Apple to make the same mistake they did with the first Apple Watch, selling a solid gold version for $10,000, but they could cover a broad price range from basic finishes to more exclusive models.

An Apple Ring could also inspire developers to create apps that work with the device, which would benefit Apple’s services revenue through sales and subscriptions of these apps.

New and innovative technology

Perhaps someday, we could even see an Apple Ring with a capacitive-touch display surface, with minimalist complications like those on the Apple Watch. Such a feat might not be achievable in the near future depending on the battery life it would require, but it would certainly be a cool innovation.

“Apple Ring” smart ring mockup by Joshua Long for Intego; CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

As wearables gain in popularity, Apple needs to gain a foothold in this market. It seems plausible, and perhaps even likely, that Apple will release an Apple Ring at some point. It’s a practical addition to the Apple ecosystem and enhances the company’s activity and health tracking. We don’t expect to see an Apple Ring this year, but it’s quite possible that we could see one within the next year or two.

How can I learn more?

We talked about the hypothetical Apple smart ring on episode 352 of the Intego Mac Podcast.

Be sure to also check out our comparison of the Apple Watch and the Oura Ring for sleep and fitness tracking.

Apple Watch vs. Oura Ring: Which is better for tracking activity and sleep?

Each week on the Intego Mac Podcast, Intego’s Mac security experts discuss the latest Apple news, security, and privacy stories, and offer practical advice on getting the most out of your Apple devices. Be sure to follow the podcast to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.

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About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Apple products and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of the Intego Mac Podcast, as well as several other podcasts, and is a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than two dozen books, including Take Control books about Apple's media apps, Scrivener, and LaunchBar. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →