Incredible future Apple Watch features – as told by genuine Apple patents

Why gesture control, smart band and facial recognition could all land one day

The Apple Watch is undergoing constant development, and when you look back over the previous generations, so much new technology has landed on Apple’s smartwatch.

But what do Apple Watch Series 5 features such as ECG readings, Fall Detection and LTE all have in common? They all landed as patents years before they hit consumers’ wrists.

Looking at patents can offer a window into the future. Most won’t arrive, but it enables us to share the vision and conversations going on behind closed doors at the biggest tech giants. It also enables us to dream a little, and that’s why we love and follow technology – for those moments of magical innovation.

We’ve put together this list of patents that may (or may not) show where the Apple Watch is heading, with the help of Patently Apple – which does an amazing job of tracking the filings out of Cupertino.

Explaining the world of Apple Watch patents
Jack Purcher, who runs Patently Apple, also points out how hard it is to guess which patents will turn into a product “because patents are a living thing at times – in that they could take 10-plus years to come to market.” He notes that, for example, the iPhone was couched in iPod-like patent filings that didn’t exactly describe the product Apple was working on as a mobile phone.

Eric Slivka, editor-in-chief at MacRumors, told Wareable that Apple is so protective about what it’s working on that it tends to patent a wide range of stuff.

“There’s some question as to when you see a patent whether that’s something that’s coming up, or whether it’s something they decided not to do, or something they filed a patent on just in case or to try to shut somebody else out,” Slivka says.

However, it’s also possible to see what Apple is working on when looking at its patents. Even though Steve Jobs famously came out against the stylus, causing people to adamantly believe Apple would never make a stylus, yet Purcher and Patently Apple reported on Apple’s patented idea at the time for an advanced smart pen that had low latency. That smart pen eventually turned into the Apple Pencil.

So while it may be impossible to tell which patents will directly turn into actual products and features, it can be fun to take a look at some of the latest Apple Watch patents and purse out which could be applied to Apple’s future lineup of software, services and hardware – and which are simply there “just in case.”

Face ID

Apple watch specs

Face ID is now a staple feature of the iPhone, patents have shown that Apple is interested in bringing the tech to the Apple Watch as well. But how likely is it?

“It’s a possibility, obviously they had to miniaturize things a lot for the iPhone X so you have to go even a lot further to get it down to an Apple Watch size,” Slivka says. “Then you have the tacked-on battery life, that was the concern for the iPhone X.”

Plus, Slivka points out that putting a camera on the front of the Apple Watch would likely just be for Face ID, as people may not take to FaceTiming and taking selfies from their wrist. Would Apple spend that much for Face ID?

With the Apple Watch increasingly being used as a vehicle for contactless payments, it depends how much pressure the company feels is placed on the PIN security method. With FaceID now used to secure sensitive apps, there’s a case that the lack of security could hamper the Apple Watch from being used to biometrically access bank accounts, health records and more.

We’ve seen patents for Touch ID both on the screen and the Digital Crown – although with the Apple Watch already secured by PIN, we feel the company would opt to integrate Face ID rather than take a backwards step in older security technology.

Likely-o-meter: This could happen

Modular, expandable Apple Watch

Apple watch patent side

Apple has secured a patent for technology that would allow users to upgrade parts of the Apple Watch, perhaps with more sensors. Modular technology has failed quite spectacularly on a consumer scale – see Blocks and Project Ara – and it seems way off piste to see it arrive on consumer Apple technology.

However, let’s not dismiss it out of hand. We’ve seen Apple patent technology for its smartwatch such as gas sensing technologies, which could have enterprise applications. Also, the long-standing speculation about blood glucose could be added-on, rather than compromise the design of the Watch itself.

Apple Watch driving features

Apple Patent image

Apple patent image

Looking at your wrist for a notification while you’re driving is just as dangerous as looking at your phone. Apple has a patent that describes a feature which would use the Apple Watch’s sensors to determine if you were driving and then limit your notifications.

This is a feature already available on the iPhone, called Do Not Disturb while Driving. Purcher says that since it’s already available on iPhone, it’s likely to soon become reality on the Apple Watch.

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