Apple Watch 8 may ditch the Digital Crown altogether

Apple Watch Series 7 images of watch on test
(Image credit: TechRadar)

A new Apple patent suggests the company is developing optical sensors to replace the Digital Crown on future Apple Watch models. 

In its current state, the physical crown – which has featured on every iteration of the wearable since its debut in 2015 – allows users to navigate the watchOS interface without having to touch their watch screen. 

This new patent, however (as uncovered by Patently Apple), reveals design blueprints for optical sensors capable of identifying user gestures without physical contact. 

Check out an image from the patent below. 

An Apple Watch patent showing optical sensors

(Image credit: Patently Apple / US Patent & Trademark Office)

This could mean future Apple Watches – perhaps even the Apple Watch 8 – may ship with gesture-based sensors in place of the physical Digital Crown, freeing up space for other components like a larger battery.

Of course, patent designs can often remain just that – there’s no guarantee Apple’s ambition will translate into actual design changes – but it’s promising to see the company exploring new ways to shake up the form factor of the Apple Watch, which hasn’t benefited from many exterior changes despite its near-annual incremental upgrades. 

What to expect from the Apple Watch 8

Those changes may not come quite as early as the Apple Watch 8, mind. Unofficial renders from earlier in the year suggest an extra speaker grille will serve as the only “noticeable change” to the design of the company’s next wearable.

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That being said, the Apple Watch 8 is also rumored to feature new tracking technology capable of monitoring the wearer’s blood sugar, blood pressure and alcohol levels. These new optical sensors, then, could prove the vessel through which Apple introduces these long-awaited features.

The Apple Watch 8 might be even bigger than the Apple Watch 7, too. The latter is already available in a suitably-enormous 45mm size, meaning there’s a chance the new model could stretch to an even larger 50mm in diameter. 

In our opinion, that’s a touch too big for a smart device intended to sit comfortably on the wrist – but perhaps Apple is looking to appease those after a smartwatch carrying the weight of a more traditional timepiece.

Whichever upgrades do end up coming to the Apple Watch 8, though, it’s clear Apple’s flagship wearable is set for some long-overdue design changes in the years to come. 

Axel Metz
Senior Staff Writer

Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion. 

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.