Watch this space
The Apple Watch 2 might be the current cream of the smartwatch crop, but it’s still far from the finished article.
Yes, it addressed many of the issues we all had with the original model – battery life: doubled; integrated GPS: added; inability to stand up to anything more than a bit of light drizzle: solved – but it’s still not made smartwatches a must-have item of tech.
With the Apple Watch 3 rumors already flowing, though, that could be about to change. Like Back to the Future re-runs or an episode of Star Trek, recently filed Apple patents have shown us what exciting tech advancements the future will bring.
Of course, patents aren’t a guarantee of what’s to come – we’ve seen hundreds of exciting gadget innovations pass through the patent and trademark office, never to see the light of day as an actual product or component. But they can also give a useful indication of how things are set to evolve.
And if these patents do end up shaping the Apple Watch 3, we’re all in for a treat.
Jedi powers could soon been in your hands – literally. Apple has filed a patent for technology that will let you control the wrist-mounted Apple Watch just by moving your wrist and fingers.
From turning your music volume up or down by twisting your wrist in or out, to scrolling up and down menu lists by extending and flexing your digits in a particular fashion, you could be able to control your Apple Watch 3 without ever touching the device.
Sensors in the watch will monitor your movements, checking your actions against an installed gesture database to ensure you always get the desired response. According to the patent filing, you’ll also be able to answer or reject incoming calls simply by opening or closing your hand.
An inbuilt camera
The original Samsung Galaxy Gear – one of the first widely available smartwatches – featured an integrated camera. This idea was quickly knocked on the head though, and for good reason: taking pictures with your wrist is awkward, and image quality was low.
It could be making a comeback, though. Apple has filed patents for a Watch with an inbuilt camera. This won’t be a camera that requires you to awkwardly contort your wrist to capture poor, grainy landscape shots though; rather, Apple says it’s looking to integrate a user-facing camera that will enable improved selfie skills and the ability to hold FaceTime video calls direct from your wrist.
According to one of the company’s patent filings, the camera “can be disposed on the front surface of face member to capture images of the user”. There’s no word on sensor size, but don’t expect it to be high.
Introducing the round Apple Watch
Aside from week-long battery life, a round redesign is the Apple Watch update the world is really waiting for. Yes, Apple’s first two wearables have made squares cool, but they’ve never managed to shake off the resounding desire for something circular.
And it looks like Apple will eventually appease consumer demands, and give the Apple Watch a round makeover. The company has filed a number of patents pertaining to designs, most recently for an “electronic device having display with curved edges”.
This patent, filed last December, shows that not only is Apple working on round watch plans, but that such a device could be something special. Unlike the Moto 360 with its flat tyre cut-out, or the Huawei Watch, which features a fully round screen but plenty of framing too, the round Apple Watch’s screen could run right to the edge of the device’s face, much like a traditional timepiece.
Second screens built into straps
It’s not just circular screens Apple is looking at. Not content with strapping one screen to your wrist, Apple has filed a number of patents around smart straps that, alongside additional integrated biometric sensors and pressure-sensitive panels, could incorporate additional screens.
The primary purpose of these would be to offer notification alerts while keeping your primary watch face free for other tasks. As well as allowing you to read messages directly on the watch band, one patent has suggested these smart straps could incorporate liquid crystal fluid and a light source, enabling them to completely change colour.
Not only would this let you see that you’ve got an alert – you could assign different colours to different notifications, such as red for an incoming call or green for a WhatsApp message. These colour-changing skills could have further benefits, too, with the chameleon-style straps letting you tweak your watch to match that day’s outfit.
Easier charging options
Wireless charging is the future, not just for wearables, but for everything; the trouble is, the future isn't quite here yet. Although the existing Apple Watch’s wireless charging cradle does a great job of letting you rejuice your wearable when at home, forget to plug it in one night and at work the next day you'll be in a battery-checking panic.
Things could be about to get a bit easier, however, with Apple having been granted a patent that would build a physical charging connection into the Watch’s strap clasps.
Doing away with the worry of not having the wearable’s bespoke charger to hand, the patent has shown how the Apple Watch will be able to be plugged directly into a Mac’s connection port for a power-up pit stop. With Apple’s MacBook lines all currently moving towards USB Type-C connections, it would suggest that’s what’s Apple Watch-bound too.
Modular smart straps
Modular smartphones have never really taken off – just look at the LG G5 and Google’s dead-in-the-water Project Ara efforts. Modular smartwatches, however, could be the future, especially if this Apple Watch patent comes to fruition.
The iPhone maker has detailed how smart links could be popped in and out of special, connected straps. Its patent states: "The electronic components included in the modular functional band links may be any kind of electronic component associated with any kind of functionality.”
These possibilities include adding in a camera module, blood pressure sensors, larger speakers, a cellular antenna or even battery boosters.
Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nike Mag trainers are now a reality, so what else can we get to tighten without us having to exert any effort? Well, if Apple gets its way, watch straps will be next on the hit list.
Answering the problem of whether to opt for the buckle fastening that’s too loose or the one that stops blood flow to your fingers, Apple has filed a patent for a Watch strap that will automatically adjust to offer the perfect fit.
According to the patent filing, as well as being able to create a number of presets, such as a tighter strap for exercise, you’ll be able to manually contract or relax the fit though a selection of on-screen controls and even the Watch’s Digital Crown. The tensioners needed to let these straps tighten could be built into a variety of designs.