Apple’s smartwatch may be about to be radically redesigned, with a completely different build designed to add flexibility and versatility. A new patent, published by the US Patent and Trademark Office earlier today, suggests what might be possible.
Patent 20200050154, spotted by Apple Insider, is called Modular System for Watch. The key word here is modular. The idea behind the radically different way of making a watch is that new elements could be added to the watch after purchasing it.
Upgrades added by attaching items to the back of the watch, in other words. There have been similar ideas before, such as wristbands with an extra battery built in, though these probably weren’t considered essential when the watch’s battery life was confirmed. Other ideas were to place sensors in the strap rather than the watch itself. But this idea has been hampered by the fact that watch wearers like to swap straps.
This new system suggests that customization could come from functional modules added to the back of the watch, for example, when needed. I have put the full abstract, as it is called, of the patent application below. But for me, the sentences that stand out are these:
“As a result, a watch body does not need to include permanent components that provide all the functions that will later be desired by the user. Instead, the watch can have expanded and customizable capabilities through the use of one or more functional modules.
New features when you need them, then.
Apple has broad intentions. Later in the app it says,
“one or more optical sensors (e.g., PPG) can be used to calculate various biometric characteristics, including but not limited to heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygenation level, volume estimation blood, blood pressure or a combination of these.”
So that could mean a whole new set of sensors that can measure different things. If I have high blood pressure, I might opt for this supplement. If you want to know more about blood oxygenation, you can use it.
Mind you, Apple is good at making all of its sensors relevant to all users, so I still think the preferred route would lean towards one watch for all. But I could be wrong.
Obviously, Apple would not design it in such a way that the user could disassemble the watch to manipulate it inside. It’s not a desktop computer tower, you know. Instead, the modules would be attached to the back of the watch, and while some of the illustrations in the app appear to show screws and fixings, I think it’s much more likely that there are fasteners made simpler.
Like how a series of pressure pins in watch straps provide a simple and very effective way to swap straps and bands on the watch now.
As the app indicates, putting these modular parts on the back has the advantage that the pressure of the watch against the wrist will also help hold the new parts in place.
One of the many illustrations shows how the front and back of the watch could be slid together, with the new module securely inside. Handy if a new processor was what was added to the existing watch.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, like details on how the new modules would be powered from the watch – or how they would power the watch if the add-on is a battery, for example.
Although it has only just been published, the patent application was filed last year. Apple takes time to update its products, so I’d be wary if it didn’t happen in time for the Apple Watch Series 6, due this fall. You can read the latest rumors about it here.
Remember that Apple offers many patents, and far from all of them put into production. But it’s just possible that there will be an entirely different way to think about the Apple Watch in the future.
The full abstract of the patent application:
Wearable electronic devices, such as watches, can be part of a modular system that provides a variety of different components and functions to achieve the results a user desires. Modular configurations allow a user to easily customize a watch with one or more functional modules to provide functionality that integrates with other watch body operations. Functional modules can be easily interchanged with each other to provide different components and functions at different times. Consequently, a watch body does not need to include permanent components which ensure all the functions which will subsequently be desired by the user. Instead, the watch can have expanded and customizable capabilities through the use of one or more functional modules.
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