While soft iPhone sales continue to concern investors, Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report is hard at work on potential future updates for the Apple Watch, including "modular functional band links," as well as updated software that will allow Siri to perform tasks within apps.
The tech giant, which has been criticized for lacking innovation in recent years under CEO Tim Cook, was awarded a patent on Tuesday for a watch band that would allow customers to replace each of the links with any of the following items: batteries, displays, photovoltaic cells, cameras, speedometers, compasses, vibrators, GPS sensors, speakers, thermometers, blood pressure sensors and sweat sensors.
"The electronic components included in the modular functional band links may be any kind of electronic component associated with any kind of functionality," Apple writes in its patent filing.
While it's uncertain whether Apple will release the new band in the future, the move would be in line with previous comments Cook made at Startup Fest Europe in Amsterdam last May about the "enormous" runway the Apple Watch has to conquer society's health problems. He envisioned it working as a warning system, alerting its user to a health problem as soon as it comes up.
"The holy grail of the Watch is being able to monitor more and more of what's going on in the body," Cook said.
Former Piper Jaffray senior tech analyst and Loup Ventures founder Gene Munster told TheStreet that a modular band makes sense for Apple and is a step toward making the watch a standalone device. Apple could use the modular band as an antenna for cellular signals, for example, meaning the Watch would no longer require the iPhone to function, Munster said. However, this technology would likely be down the road.
Separately, Apple is working on new Apple Watch software that will allow users to use its digital voice assistant Siri to complete tasks within apps, according to the release notes for watchOS 3.2 beta 1 on Tuesday. The software description states that watch users will be able to use "SiriKit" to book a ride, make a payment or send a text message simply by talking to your device.
If Apple can improve Siri's speed and functionality on the Apple Watch, then "it could be Apple's answer" to both Amazon's (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report Alexa and Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report Google Home, Munster said. Alexa already performs tasks such as playing music, setting an alarm, reporting the weather for the day or even creating a shopping list. In the same way, Google Home can give traffic and weather updates, set an alarm, perform calculations and get translations.
Loup Ventures estimates that Amazon has sold six million Alexa-powered Echo units by the end of 2016, compared to Apple's 21 million watches and Google Home's one million units (Google Home just came out in the U.S. in November).