The Apple Watch's crappy flashlight could be in for a huge upgrade

Apple Watch Ultra 2
(Image credit: Future)

You might not be aware of it, but the Apple Watch that's on your wrist right now actually has a built-in flashlight. It's great for finding things in a dark room, but it isn't going to win any awards when it comes to luminance. It's pretty bright for what it is, but things could be much, much better.

It appears that someone at Apple agrees because a new patent suggests that Apple is keen to find a way to make the Apple Watch's flashlight brighter than it already is. How much brighter remains to be seen, but the extra brightness isn't going to be the only benefit to such a change, assuming that it ever actually happens — we'll get to that later. There's a whole other benefit to this patent's design, and it's all about angles.

If the patent comes to fruition the Apple Watch won't just have a brighter flashlight but it will also have one that is easier to point in the direction you're likely to want it to point in — and if you've ever used the existing Apple Watch flashlight, you'll know just how important that could turn out to be.

The patent

The new patent was spotted by AppleInsider and is definitely an illuminating one if you'll pardon the terrible pun. The idea is that the Apple Watch would gain a new light source that would affix to the band, rather than the watch itself. That new flashlight would point left and right from the Apple Watch as you look at it, and would have its own power source.

The patent also appears to suggest that the flashlight could be added to any band, making it more useful than having it be specifically dedicated to a band that you have to swap in or out just for those times when you might need it. Still, you'd presumably need to take the flashlight with anyway so it's unclear whether that's actually a real benefit or not.

Why it matters

Apple Watch flashlight patent drawing

(Image credit: Apple/USPTO)

This patent, like all others, is suitably vague to ensure that it could be used in a variety of ways. But a couple of the key points are worth picking apart a little more.

First, we have to consider how the Apple Watch's flashlight works today. In reality, all the Apple Watch does is turn its display up to the maximum brightness and display a full screen of color to help illuminate the way. As mentioned, it's pretty useful — I've used it to find something in our garage when the light was out, and it was fine — but it isn't going to do much good in the darkest environments. Especially when those environments are more open. Something else we'll come back to later.

In the case of this patent, the flashlight would presumably be much brighter than anything the Apple Watch's display can muster which could be of huge benefit in more challenging conditions.

Second, Apple makes a point of saying that this unreleased flashlight would "generate visible light cast in a direction that is parallel, or at least substantially parallel, to an axis defined by a user's appendage when the appendage passes through band." Anyone who uses the current Apple Watch flashlight will know that aiming it is downright hard at times because the light points in a direction that isn't what you generally need. With this accessory, wearers would have more control over where the light is aimed.

With that in mind, and considering the fact the battery would be external so as not to drain the main Apple Watch battery, this seems like a feature that's particularly useful for Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Ultra 2 owners. I could imagine someone in a dark cave, or on a dark trail, making use of such a flashlight. The extra luminance would be of obvious benefit, as would the better directionality and improved battery situation. All things that come in handy when you're in the middle of nowhere, no doubt.

However — and I did say we'd get back to this — it's always important to remember that not every patent turns into a product. And at this point, there's little to suggest this one will. Still, many do, and adventurers everywhere will no doubt hope this patent is one of the lucky ones.

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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.