Smart rings confuse me. Before writing this article, I wasn’t really sure what the point of them was. Or what a smart ring could feasibly do.
But, as you will see, I have been somewhat enlightened. All of this smart ring stuff stemmed from the recent news surrounding the Samsung Smart Ring.
After filing a patent last week for a whole bunch of different ring-themed names, it seems Samsung will be the first big company to enter this particular sector of the wearable tech market.
And they’re not the only ones. Earlier in the year, Apple also filed patents for its own smart ring, confirming rumours of an Apple Ring that have swirled for years. Because where one goes, the other must follow like a weirdly overcompetitive older brother.
Apple and Samsung are battling it out on many different fronts at the moment, whether that’s AI, VR, phones, or watches, and it looks like you can now add smart rings to that list.
But before we take a look at each one in turn, let’s hit rewind for a second and see exactly how we got here; the dawn of the smart ring age (probably).
Oura Ring and McLEAR Ring: The Pioneers
It feels like a bit of a stretch to call the McLEAR Ring a ‘smart’ ring. It can do one thing; contactless payment. In the realm of modern-day tech, contactless payment is about as impressive or inspiring as the new iPhone 15 will be (shots fired). You can already get a contactless payment chip embedded into your hand.
It is slightly more complex than it seems though. The McLEAR ring acts as a sort of wearable bank account. You can hold funds within it, transfer money to other rings and of course pay with it. And you know what? That’s actually quite useful.
Sure, you can’t auto-respond to a text message, but not having to pull your phone or card out to pay for something sounds pretty seamless. There are no frills to a McLEAR, and that extends to the pretty drab design, but it performs a function well and for that I commend it. But ‘smart’ it ain’t.
That’s where the Oura Ring comes in. Firmly in the health tech category, Oura’s Smart Ring is all about tracking your health and fitness in any way it can. From monitoring exercise and relaxation time to sleep quality, it is much like an advanced Fitbit for your finger.
So, pretty ‘smart’, especially for something more than half the size of an Apple Watch. And they cost a third of the price. AND they look slightly nicer than the McLEAR. Although there is still room for improvement in that space.
But still, these two examples are lacking. Nothing here is mindblowing. I want voice activation. I want haptic controls. I want VR integration.
Enter stage left…
It’s no surprise that Apple has patented its own smart ring concept. You could invent the revolutionary new ‘smart banana’ and Apple would file a patent for their own version called ‘Banana Pro’ in mere picoseconds.
Back in 2022, Apple showed their workings on two different types of smart ring; a one-ring configuration and a two-ring configuration. What is truly exciting about these patents is the possibilities they open up.
In both designs, an Apple Ring would have sensing capabilities, meaning they could independently detect the distance between other smart objects like an Apple Watch or Apple Pen. This means an Apple Ring would know where in space and time it is. It could locate itself.
And if it can locate itself, it can locate you…or, more precisely, your finger. This is huge for potential UI developments in AR/VR systems and I think ties in very nicely with Vision Pro.
Most VR/AR systems require two handheld controllers to work. But a ring, or multiple rings, could replace them and make your own fingers the controllers. This would make VR/AR much less cumbersome and intrusive which is by far the main barrier to its uptake, excluding cost.
I’ve been wondering since the announcement about how Apple Vision Pro would work so precisely without controllers. In the promo videos, we see people just flicking their fingers to control a whole array of features. So it would make sense for an Apple smart ring to be the answer here.
I am an AR/VR sceptic, but the prospect of a smooth, immersive UI would go a long way to changing my mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vision Pro is sold alongside an Apple Smart Ring whenever they make an appearance.
Samsung Galaxy Ring
But wait! Just like smartwatches and foldable phones, Apple’s nemesis looks like it might beat them to a smart ring release.
That’s right, Samsung has also filed patents for their own smart ring as well as trademarks for a number of potential names. The names range from the obvious ‘Samsung Galaxy Ring’, to the boring ‘Circle’ and end up at the ambiguous ‘Curio’. The filing of trademarked names means Samsung is serious about a release and one that won’t be too far away.
Samsung’s AR/VR future is a tad unclear (speculation is that a partnership with Google will produce a headset at some point), so the first Samsung Galaxy Ring iterations may not initially have a focus on AR capabilities. Although you can bet they will have spatial sensing tech inside them anyway.
But Samsung’s smart ring patents reveal more detail than Apple’s. Samsung’s designs include room for a touchscreen through which notifications can be seen and there are rumours of a camera! I know camera tech is mindblowing today but to have one in a ring would be very James Bond.
A Samsung Ring will also track health stats and all the other goodies a smartwatch does. And I have no doubt an Apple Ring will do all the above and probably more if we’re being honest.
But Samsung seems to be further along the development cycle than Apple with their 2022 patents stating Samsung was in ‘advanced development’, the stage before mass production.
So, we may get a smart ring in late 2024 as an optimistic but not ill-informed guess. And that’s exciting.
…or is it?
Should we care about smart rings?
I think most readers, and indeed myself, would expect some cynicism here. By nature, I am cautiously enthusiastic about future tech. I’m interested in all the wacky developments going on right now but also equally sceptical.
Virtual reality is a good example of this.
Yes, it’s lots of fun to use and opens up unique possibilities. But it’s also impractical, clunky and goes against my human instincts. I don’t want to walk around the house whilst my whole family wears VR headsets 24/7. No matter how you spin it, that’s a future where genuine human interaction is minimised and disrupted.
But I don’t get this visceral reaction with smart rings. They tick a lot of boxes and don’t offend me in other areas.
Useful? Certainly. Fast payments, health tracking, quick notifications.
Unobtrusive? It’s a slightly large ring on your finger. As inconspicuous as it gets.
Beneficial? Seems likely. If integrated with VR tech and other smart systems, smart rings should seamlessly improve the user experience and functionality of other gadgets.
Downside? Honestly, I can only see cosmetic issues. Right now, the smart rings on offer look dull and ugly. Like those tacky mood rings you get in a Christmas cracker. But that’s a minor detail.
Smart ring final thoughts
All in all, we have lots to be excited about.
The existing smart rings on the market perform their limited functions well and in a low-key way.
The proposals from Apple and Samsung are genuinely exciting — especially the Samsung Galaxy Ring’s touchscreen potential.
And to top it all off, they don’t seem to be that far away from being released. I might actually buy one. And that’s saying something!
Bring on 2024 I say, the dawn of the smart ring age.