A series of new wearables patents have been secured by Apple and may relate to features in the Apple Watch Series 6, expected to launch in September or October.
These patents were spotted by the ever-watchful Patently Apple.
66 new Apple patents were published at the US patent office, and there are a few important potential future features to dig out of them. Touch ID is the one that might affect your day-to-day Apple Watch use the most.
“The display may also provide an input surface for one or more input devices, such as, for example, a touch sensing device and/or a fingerprint sensor,” is found in one of the patent documents.
This feature was rumoured in May 2020, by The Verifier, and earlier too. An in-screen fingerprint scanner seems the obvious choice of technology for this kind of login, as used in a great many Android phones but no Apple ones at present.
It makes more sense than using the advanced face identification tech of the iPhone 11 series, which needs not just a camera but an infra-red projector. This projects a series of dots on your face to work out a map of its contours.
Apple does currently use some fingerprint scanning tech, the classic Touch ID sensor, in the iPhone SE. But, again there would be no room for this in a compact Apple Watch.
Is dedicated Apple Watch login hardware essential? Perhaps not, but it slots neatly into Apple’s long-promoted commitment to privacy and security. And that will only become more important as Apple digs further into the potential healthcare roles of wearables.
Other new Apple patents relate to this area too. One of them details a way for the Apple Watch, or another as-yet-unnamed wearable, to be able to tell which wrist the watch is worn on. And its position on your wrist.
A “thin” application of this tech might be for simple shortcut gestures, but with the added refinement of a watch brain that knows much more clearly where it is.
However, it becomes more interesting from a technical perspective to think about how this can improve biometric sensors. Movement is the enemy of the current Apple Watch’s optical PPG heart rate sensor, and such wearables use algorithms to compensate for the errors such movement creates.
PPG wrist sensors shine light into your skin, and use the amount of reflected light — collected by a sensor — to monitor blood flow. Better knowledge of precisely where the watch is on your wrist would let the watch get closer to the accuracy of a chest strap sensor.
This tech could also be used to improve blood oxygen saturation, or SpO2, readings. These have been rumoured for the Apple Watch series for several years, and the Apple Watch Series 6 might well be the time for them.
References to blood oxygen saturation were found earlier this in iOS 14 code, a much better indication of future features than the patents referenced here. Many rivals already offer approximate blood oxygen readings, including the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro.
New health features and ways to improve their accuracy all build up the picture of a Apple Watch that can be used as a day-to-day health monitor.
These recently granted Apple patents will have been filed much earlier, but as ever should never be taken as any kind of proof the features they detail will suddenly appear in the next Apple device. Analyst Jon Prosser says the Apple Watch and iPad will be launched in the week of September 7.