With Apple iWatch patent, slap bracelets have their biggest moment since the ’90s

Everything old is new again.
Everything old is new again.
Image: Apple / US Patent and Trademark Office
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Apple today filed for a US patent on a “bi-stable spring with flexible display,” which looks awfully like a watch. We already knew the company has a team of 100 people working on a so-called iWatch, so the patent application deserves a little more credence than we might ordinarily give it. And with Google this week more aggressively marketing its augmented-reality eyewear, Google Glass, wearable computing is starting to look like more than a fad.

But speaking of fads: Particularly notable in Apple’s patent filing is how the company imagines affixing the watch to one’s wrist, explaining in somewhat tortured legalese what any American who grew up in the late 1980s or early 1990s would understand in an instant (emphasis ours):

Bi-stable springs have two equilibrium positions. This allows a device with a bi-stable spring to assume two distinct configurations. The most recent widespread use of such a device was the slap bracelet, also called the slap wrap. The slap bracelet consists of layered flexible steel bands sealed within a fabric cover. Typical slap bracelets are roughly one inch in width by nine inches in length. In a first equilibrium position they can be flat. The second equilibrium is typically reached by slapping the flat embodiment across the wrist, at which point the bracelet curls around the wrist and stays relatively secure in a roughly circular position.

Yes, the slap bracelet is back.

Image for article titled With Apple iWatch patent, slap bracelets have their biggest moment since the ’90s

Slap bracelets, originally known as Slap Wraps, were invented in 1983 by Stuart Anders, a high-school teacher in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. They quickly became a craze among American children, followed inevitably by hysteria over concern that the bracelets might bruise or slice people’s wrists. Slap bracelets were so awesome on account of being cheap,  expressive, and fun. Most importantly, slapping the bracelet onto your wrist was addictive—and, it turned out, not particularly dangerous. Main Street Toy, which held the patent on the original Slap Wraps, sold 4 million of them in 1990.

The slap bracelet style of watch has been proposed before, but it’s difficult to create a bendable display that would nonetheless be durable enough for daily use. (Griffin Technology sells a watch band that functions like a slap bracelet with an iPad Nano as the watch face.)  A truly bendable display could be Apple’s breakthrough if the iWatch ever comes to market.

In the meantime, perhaps Apple’s interest in the slap bracelet will lead to a retro resurgence for the toy, proving wrong its inventor, Anders, who once told the New York Times: “I’d like to think Slap Wraps will last 30 years, but I know it won’t. I hope to be somewhere between Pet Rocks and the Hula Hoop.”

Snap Bracelet