Apple is apparently dreaming of making a smartwatch that comes armed with a camera sensor. Entitled “Clock with camera”, a request for patent filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) describes multiple methods of putting a camera into a future Apple Watch.
One of the design schematics in the Apple patent shows a camera embedded in the Digital Crown, which makes a lot of sense from an engineering and functional perspective. This position not only allows the camera sensor to easily capture a scene when the watch is strapped to the wrist, but also prevents it from standing out as an eyesore if placed elsewhere on the case, especially on the top face.
However, the patent envisions multiple ways a camera can be placed on an Apple Watch. One of the proposed implementations speaks of a detachable case that includes the camera hardware. Such an external camera system can be attached to the rear panel using a form-fitting module, which also means it could be attached or detached at will.
Another example shows an expanding strap system with a clasp to attach a camera module. Apple’s patent document is more inclined towards using a removable camera module, rather than putting it into the main body, which can prove to be an engineering challenge given the limited space inside a smartwatch. The patent also describes a scenario where the main screen of the smartwatch is used as a viewfinder, while the detachable camera module is used to take photos.
Keep in mind that this is just one patent application we’re talking about here, and that means the chances of such a product making it to market are unknown. However, Apple’s patent application provides a glimpse of what the future holds for smartwatches.
One could argue that putting a camera in a smartwatch doesn’t really make much sense. But there are scenarios where a camera, even without a ton of pixels and gimmicks behind it, can come in handy.
Take, for example, fall detection, which is already available on Apple smartwatches. Putting a camera on the Apple Watch could provide critical visual information, which can be used in conjunction with readings provided by other sensors like the gyroscope and accelerometer, to further improve accuracy. It may also prove to be a valuable asset to Apple’s rumored fault detection feature.
Regardless of how useful cameras may be for future smartwatches, there is always a tangible privacy risk associated with them. Imagine someone covertly recording you without your consent with the camera installed inside the crown or side button of a smart watch? Yes, it sounds horrendous, and there is already some precedent for it out there.
Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, which come armed with a camera to take photos and videos, have already generated controversy due to their potential to intrude on someone’s privacy. The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has asked Facebook to I know make sure the on-board LEDs are bright enough and visible enough so that the person in view of the camera can tell they are being recorded. Guarantorthe privacy watchdog in Italy, has flagged similar privacy concerns about Facebook’s sleek-looking smart glasses.
But Apple isn’t the only filth-rich company envisioning a smartwatch armed with a camera. Facebook is also reportedly working on a smartwatch, and if a leaked render is anything to go by, the camera will sit in a small notch right on the front face of the wearable. But that’s not all, as Facebook has laid out plans for multiple iterations of a smartwatch to complement its ecosystem of wearable devices including high-end AR goggles and AR/VR headsets.