Apple Watch Prototype Shows Possible ‘Smart Band’ Connector

Apple Watch Series 3 prototype smart band connector Credit: Giulio Zompetti / Twitter
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A recently unearthed prototype for the Apple Watch Series 3 shows that Apple may have been actively testing Smart Bands for its wearable as far back as 2017, but chose to abandon that plan for whatever reason.

This latest insight comes from Giulio Zompetti, an iOS developer who also happens to be an avid collector of prototypes for various Apple devices. Zompetti has previously shared such tidbits as an iPod touch prototype with a centre camera, and several other Apple Watch prototypes.

This latest one is especially interesting, however, as it shows a mysterious “smart connector” located in the spot where the band normally slides in.

Although the photo also reveals a closer look at the diagnostic port — something that you may not have realized is present on all Apple Watch models — it’s the two pins on either side of the diagnostic port that are unique to this prototype.

A Smart Band

The idea of smart bands coming to the Apple Watch isn’t particularly new. Patents filed back in 2016 revealed that Apple was already working on the idea, but this is the first evidence we’ve seen that the company had actually built something — even just as a prototype.

While the Apple Watch has included a diagnostic port from the very beginning, it’s normally covered up behind a secure panel, and Apple offers no public documentation as to what the port is used for. However, since the Apple Watch has no other physical connectors, it’s presumably intended to allow service technicians to access the Apple Watch to perform certain tasks such as installing watchOS where wireless connectivity isn’t available. Apple’s HomePod and Apple TV models also offer similar hidden diagnostic ports.

However, this prototype puts previous speculation to rest that the diagnostic port may have been designed to support a smart band — at least by itself — since these extra two pins were clearly required to serve some additional purpose.

That said, it’s also worth keeping in mind that the diagnostic port on current Apple Watch models uses six pins, whereas the Apple Watch shown in the photo only uses four. This suggests that the prototype may have simply been using a different layout for the same set of pins. However, the need to separate two of the pins from the main connector still hints that Apple had some bigger purpose in mind for this design.

The timing lines up very closely with various other reports we’ve heard of Apple’s work on smart band technologies. This could include not only bands that pack in more advanced health sensors, but also more creative “smart straps” that could offer additional displays for things like time and temperature, or even simply change colours according to incoming notifications or status messages.

Zompetti told 9to5Mac that Apple was working on special sensors to add blood pressure monitoring using a smart band, which lines up with an Apple patent from 2017. Since the prototype is non-functional, however, it’s hard to know for certain if this is what Apple was going for.

Apple has been working on ways to add blood pressure monitoring to the Apple Watch for years, and rumour has it that the feature almost made it into the Apple Watch Series 6 last year, but had to be scrapped due to problems with getting accurate readings.

It’s not hard to imagine that sensors in the Apple Watch band would likely help a lot toward improving accuracy, so it’s not clear why Apple seems to have abandoned these plans. Perhaps the required bands would have been too bulky or expensive to be practical, or possibly, they just couldn’t be designed in such a way as to fit with Apple’s vision for the style of the Apple Watch.

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