What do you want the next Apple Watch to look like? The latest version, Series 5, is the slickest version yet of a design that is a direct descendant of the first Watch. Perhaps it’s time for a radical change? Well, a just-revealed patent shows a way the design of the smartwatch could transform completely.
The patent, noticed by the reliably eagle-eyed Patently Apple, shows an Apple Watch without one of the defining design elements: the Digital Crown.
Update 02/02 Further details have come to light which indicate you might not even have to touch the new sensor to make it work!
Patent number 20200033815 is something dealing with “WATCH WITH OPTICAL SENSOR FOR USER INPUT” and here’s part of the abstract, as they call it, that sits at the top of the patent.
“A watch can include a user input component that employs an optical sensor to receive input from a user. The input components provide an ability for a user to interact with the watch in a manner similar to how a user would interact with a crown that is rotatable and/or translatable.”
So, that’s pretty clear. Instead of the Digital Crown, the patent suggests an optical sensor in its place.
A direct replacement, then, because the abstract goes on:
“The input component provides a user experience that simulates user interactions with a crown that is rotatable and/or translatable.”
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure about this change and my hesitation is this: the Digital Crown is part of the essence of the Apple Watch. It is a delightful evocation of the winder found on a traditional watch, it sits in just the right place and works perfectly. Of course, the current version is very different from how it was on the first Apple Watch.
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Why the Digital Crown matters
The latest Digital Crown has haptic feedback to add to the experience and inside it sports the electrodes which, on Series 4 and Series 5, make it possible for the Watch to measure an ECG.
But, here’s the thing, it is a physical part of the Watch that has real purpose and meaning.
So, why on earth would Apple get rid of it?
Well, there’s another clue in the abstract, which says:
“The motions and gestures provided by the user can be directly detected with optical systems of the input component, so that the number of moving parts are reduced and space within the watch is more efficiently utilized.”
Hmm. Okay, well, that makes sense. Space utilization means new components for extra features or a bigger battery for longer life between charges, both of which are good things.
Look, no hands
It also transpires that the patent allows for motions and gestures to be spotted by the optical systems even without touch. Specifically, the patent says that
“the user can provide motions and gestures near the input component that the input component can detect and interpret and user inputs to control an aspect of the watch”.
So, just placing your hand near the optical sensor can be recognized, not least because it input component can include a light source, such as LEDs or a laser diode.
All of which suggests this is a sensor which will be versatile and useful, I’ll admit.
Even so, and despite the idea that it might make the Watch better protected against damage because it would remove a protuberant part which could be damaged in a fall, I’d still prefer Apple to keep the design as it is.
There’s something amazingly comforting to that rotating crown, and although it makes for extra moving parts, it also adds to the elegance of the design.
All that said, the illustrations in the patent do look potentially attractive, and seem a continuation of the direction that Apple’s design has been going. After all, for the first few years, Apple’s Side Button was sticking out of the edge of the Watch, but then sat flush with the case edge.
So, this could be an update along similar lines.
And if the movements include the swiping down gesture illustrated as well as a rotational move, then maybe it could offer an exciting new way to interact with the Watch.
I’ll keep an open mind.
Of course, with all Apple patents it’s worth remembering that some come to fruition and many more vanish without trace.
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