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Apple sure has a lot of patents about adding a camera to the Apple Watch

Apple sure has a lot of patents about adding a camera to the Apple Watch


Patents can be a glimpse into what a company’s thinking about, even if they don’t guarantee a product is in development. And here’s yet another one about an Apple Watch camera.

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The Apple Watch Series 8 on a reflective pink mirror
Apple may not have added a camera to its Apple Watch yet, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t thought long and hard about it.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

While gadget patents don’t guarantee anything, they can offer a glimpse into areas a company is exploring. Earlier this week, Apple was granted a patent (US-11571048-B1) for an Apple Watch strap release mechanism that could potentially be used with a built-in camera. That, on its own, is a neat idea, but it’s also the third camera-related Apple Watch patent we’ve seen in recent years. The patent application was originally filed in 2019, so Apple engineers have clearly had wearable cameras on the brain for some time.

First spotted by Patently Apple, the patent’s abstract and description section detail a strap with two segments and a “nest” portion. The concept was to create a quick and ergonomic way to pop the watch out of the strap.

That, in turn, could open up new ways to use the Apple Watch that aren’t limited to the wrist — like, as stated in the claims section, taking pictures with a built-in camera. Figure 3 in the patent illustrates a person holding a strapless watch to take a picture. Figure 4 then shows a cross section of an Apple Watch with a bottom-facing built-in camera and its field of view. So, you’d essentially pop out the watch, hold up the camera portion, and snap a picture.

The Figure 3 diagram shows a hand holding up the Apple Watch body while the strap remains on the wrist.
This shows a person snapping a photo with an Apple Watch removed from its strap.
Image: USPTO
Figure 4 shows a cross section of the Apple Watch, with an image sensor in the middle. There are two lines fanning out from the sensor to depict the field of view with two small human figures in the center
This is a cross section of an Apple Watch depicting a bottom-facing camera and its field of view.
Image: USPTO

As Patently Apple notes, this isn’t even the first time Apple’s filed camera-related patents for the Apple Watch. Apple was granted another patent last year simply titled “Watch having a camera.” It described a scenario where a camera was placed within the digital crown, and one of the diagrams is basically identical to figure 3 above. In 2019, Apple won a patent for a rotatable camera built into the end of a strap. Notably, there’s already a third-party Apple Watch accessory called the Wristcam that functions similarly.

Clearly, this was a concept that someone at Apple put a lot of thought into. And there are legitimate reasons why a customer might want a smartwatch camera. One of the big draws of the Apple Watch is that it enables iPhone users to spend less time on their phones — and potentially even leave it behind when running errands, going for a walk, or exercising. But who hasn’t been out and about and seen something they wanted to take a pic of to send to friends and family? Without your phone, you’d have no evidence. And, as they say, pics or it didn’t happen.

Figure 5 of a patent diagram showing an Apple Watch with a strap. At the end of the strap is a small section showing an image sensor.
This patent diagram shows the rotatable camera (220, 221) built into an Apple Watch strap.
Image: USPTO

The more dicey use case would be to discreetly snap a picture or film a recording. That — plus technological restrictions like size and battery — may be why we haven’t seen many companies explore this idea further. As demonstrated by the original Google Glass, the idea that someone may be secretly recording you leaves many uncomfortable. (Though, Meta was rumored to be working on a smartwatch with not one but two cameras before purportedly scrapping the idea.)

In any case, it bears repeating that patents aren’t a guarantee of anything. Big Tech often proactively files patents for ideas just in case. It could very well be that Apple thought long and hard about cameras and decided against it, or there’s a chance that a future Apple Watch might have a built-in camera. Either way, it’s worth noting that wearable cameras are something tech companies are thinking about — and what that might mean for smartwatches in the future.