Forget a Front-Facing Camera | Future Apple Watches Could Get Lenses in Their Digital Crowns

A new patent reveals Apple is floating the idea of installing a camera on the side of the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 7 Credit: Framesira / Shutterstock
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An assortment of rumors and patent filings over the years have revealed Apple tossing around ideas for how to put a camera into the Apple Watch, but now a novel one suggests the possibility that it might come to the Digital Crown.

Until now, it looked like the best idea Apple had for adding a camera to its wearable was to incorporate it into the watch band in some way, but now a new patent unearthed by Patently Apple reveals that the company is floating the idea of installing a camera on the side of the Apple Watch by using the Digital Crown as the lens.

This obviously wouldn’t be intended as a selfie camera for making video calls on your wrist, but rather as a way to capture snapshots of the world around you. All you’d need to do is point your wrist toward whatever you want to take a picture of, assuming you wear your Apple Watch with the Digital Crown facing outward.

The patent, which is matter-of-factly titled Watch having a camera, also describes a release mechanism that could be used to easily remove the watch from the band to take a picture either from a different angle or by using a back-facing camera instead.

While the patent doesn’t go into details on how the camera would be activated, it’s not hard to imagine Apple implementing gesture-based controls, allowing you to take a snapshot with a flick of your wrist.

It’s already done this for accessibility purposes, and other patents have suggested that gesture-based optical sensors could someday replace the Digital Crown.

It’s About More Than Pictures

While the most obvious use of a camera in the Digital Crown would be to let you capture snapshots, Apple’s patent suggests that it has some other ideas in mind for this, including using it for health-related features.

For example, when placed against the skin, a camera can be used to sense “various physiological characteristics,” such as blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and more, through a process known as photoplethysmography (PPG). We’ve already seen research into how an iPhone camera can measure blood pressure.

The optical (e.g., PPG) sensor or sensors may be used to compute various physiological characteristics including, without limitation, a heart rate, a respiration rate, blood oxygenation level, a blood volume estimate, blood pressure, or a combination thereof. One or more of the sensors 244 may also be configured to perform an electrical measurement using one or more electrodes. Additionally or alternatively, a sensor 244 can be configured to measure body temperature, exposure to UV radiation, and other health-related information.

While the most obvious place for such a camera would be on the back of the watch, where it sits against the user’s wrist, a Digital Crown mounted camera could take specific on-demand readings from a fingertip, just like Apple already does with its ECG feature.

If Apple is going to add a camera to the Apple Watch, it looks like it will try to make it as useful and versatile as possible. Hence, the idea is to create a camera that can monitor your vital signs whenever you’re not using it to take pictures.

Of course, as with all of Apple’s patents, there’s no guarantee these ideas will ever make it into an actual product, but it’s always fun to get some insight into what’s circulating inside the minds of Apple’s designers and engineers.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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