Watch out Google: Apple gets patent for wearable device

Apple begins chasing Google Glass by working on device that may be used in the operating room or for gaming

Google is already getting some stiff competition in the race to develop a wearable computer.

Apple on Tuesday was awarded a U.S. patent for a head-mounted display device that's designed to project an image in front of a user's eyes, creating an "enhanced viewing experience."

The Apple patent notes that the device could focus on "augmented reality" by using a see-through image imposed upon a real-world view.

That sounds a lot like a feature Google is touting in its new computerized glasses technology, dubbed Google Glass.

At Google's annual Google I/O developer conference last week, Sergey Brin, a company co-founder, showed off a prototype of the Android-based glasses, which are designed to have a processor, memory, GPS sensor, cameras, microphone and speaker.

Brin pointed out that the Google glasses are expected to have a display screen that sits just above one of the user's eyes so it doesn't impede his vision.

Industry analysts told Computerworld this week that they expect Google Glass will accelerate the development of so-called wearable computers. Some industry experts predict that in five years, it will likely be common for people walking down the street to be wearing some form of computer.

Brin and others say that users should look to Star Trek and other science fiction tales to find the next generation of computers, In reality, they say, many future computers won't look at all like today's devices.

And with Apple putting its might behind developing wearable computers, development of the new systems should be even speedier.

"Tech is a game of copycatting so I'm not shocked that Apple would jump in," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research. "Apple obviously recognizes that there's value in it. The company that can provide the most context to the app developers, stands to win big."

Apple's patent said that the company's device could have a second display, a processor, memory and a user interface.

The patent documents also note that the device could be used for health care applications, such as giving surgeons information while they work, or for viewing movies.

"Some examples include applications in surgery, where radiographic data, such as CAT scans or MRI imaging can be combined with the surgeon's vision," the Apple patent documents said.

"Military, police and firefighters use HMDs [head-mounted display] to display relevant tactical information, such as maps or thermal imaging data. Consumer devices are also available for use in gaming and entertainment applications."

Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests for comment for this story.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

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