Future Apple Watches could see the Digital Crown replaced with an optical sensor, as evidenced by a newly granted patent (number 11,209,783) for a “watch with an optical sensor for user input.”
About the patent
In the patent, Apple notes that portable electronic devices, such as watches, have become increasingly popular, and the features and functionality provided by portable electronic devices continue to expand to meet the needs and expectations of many consumers. User interface features are often provided on electronic devices to allow a user to provide commands for execution by the devices.
Many devices include input components, such as crowns, that receive and detect tactile input from a user during operation. Such input components may be prominently featured on the device for ready access by a user.
Apple says that, however, user input components, such as crowns, can occupy space on a watch that could otherwise be occupied by other components of the watch. What’s more, some user input components include moving parts, which are susceptible to wear.
Finally, user input components can also be susceptible to damage resulting from impact during normal use or when the watch is inadvertently dropped. Apple is at least considering replacing the Digital Crown with an optical sensor on future Apple Watches to overcome such issues.
Summary of the patent
Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent: “A watch can include a user input component that employs an optical sensor to receive input from a user. The input components provide an ability for a user to interact with the watch in a manner similar to how a user would interact with a crown that is rotatable and/or translatable. The user can provide motions and gestures near the input component that the input component can detect and interpret and user inputs to control an aspect of the watch.
“The motions and gestures provided by the user can be directly detected with optical systems of the input component, so that the number of moving parts are reduced and space within the watch is more efficiently utilized. While providing these benefits, the input component provides a user experience that simulates user interactions with a crown that is rotatable and/or translatable.”