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About a decade ago, right around the time that Microsoft was trying to get us to use the first generation of Tablet PCs, the Redmond company was also pushing the concept of smart watches — wireless devices that displayed information such as news headlines, sports scores, gas prices and weather. The project was officially retired last year when Microsoft shut down the service that powered the devices via FM transmissions.

Now there’s more evidence that Apple will try to popularize the smart watch, as well.

One of Microsoft’s original smart watches.

A new Apple patent application, made public today and first spotted by Apple Insider, describes a “slap bracelet” with a flexible display that would wrap around the wrist, powered by ambient light. The display would deliver information to the user and provide more advanced interactivity than was possible back when Microsoft tried this.

The filing explains, “With a touch screen user input a user can accomplish a number of different tasks including adjusting the order of a current playlist, and reviewing a list of recent phone calls. A response to a current text message can even be managed given a simple virtual keyboard configuration across the face of the flexible display.”

Here’s the interesting part: Apple doesn’t see the smart watch as a standalone device, as Microsoft did. Instead, the watch would be companion to “a portable electronic device,” presumably an iPhone or iPad, with data going back and forth between the watch and the larger device via Bluetooth or WiFi.

Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have all reported recently that Apple is working on an “iWatch.”

With smartphones now pervasive, some people (myself included) have stopped wearing traditional watches. But this concept of using the watch as an enhancement to the smartphone experience seems like the type of approach that could actually work.

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