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Future Apple Watch Digital Crowns might have touch and light sensors for new interactions

Apple Watch
Apple Watch (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • A new Apple Watch patent revolves around a new Digital Crown.
  • The Digital Crown could gain light and touch sensors.
  • Those sensors would change how the crown is used by watch wearers.

A new Apple patent suggests the company is working on a new type of Apple Watch Digital Crown that could include touch and light sensors to detect when a finger is present. That finger could then be tracked to allow the watch to know when the crown is being used.

The patent, spotted by Apple Insider and titled "Crown for An Electronic Watch," carries the US patent number 20200041962.

As the patent suggests, a new Digital Crown could feature an optical sensor that would take images and then compare them during an interaction. If a change is detected, the watch would then interpret that as movement. Potentially, of a crown that doesn't actually move itself.

In order to detect motion using the image (e.g., the stored image), the image sensor may analyze multiple frames to determine, for example, a speed and direction of one or more features in the image. The features that are analyzed may include features of a user's skin (e.g., fingerprints, hair follicles), or any other optically detectable feature, texture, surface irregularity, image, or the like, of any object. In this way, the device may be responsive to skin (e.g., the skin of a user's finger or hand), a stylus, a gloved finger, or any other suitable object with optically detectable features.

Digital Crown patent

Digital Crown patent (Image credit: Apple Insider)

Such an implementation would allow users to continue to wear gloves – something that can hinder traditional touch-based systems like those found in an Apple Watch's display.

The most obvious use for something like this is to allow swipes and taps of the face of a Digital Crown to be used as new input methods without the crown needing to be pressed.

But as ever, this patent might never result in a product. I always round these patent posts out with the same warning and I'll do it again. Not every patent turns into something you can buy from Apple and the company patents almost everything its engineers come up with. Take this with a pinch of salt, but who knows – we might just see Apple Watch Series X with a new Digital Crown.

Oliver Haslam
Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.