Customers have clamored for a camera on the Apple Watch since its launch in 2015. If a patent (US 11571048 B1) recently filed by Apple is any indication, a built-in camera may soon become a reality for Apple Watch owners.
In 2020, Wristcam launched a certified strap for the Apple Watch that integrated a pair of Sony cameras, including an 8-megapixel outward-facing camera and a second 2-megapixel “selfie” camera. The accessory works alongside a companion app on the Apple Watch, allowing users to capture photos, perform live streams, and share captured content. A downside of the Wristcam is that the strap is bulky, undercutting some of the Apple Watch’s svelte and stylish appeal. It’s also costly, retailing for $299.
Apple’s recent patent — spotted by Patently Apple — solves the bulkiness issue by utilizing a detachable cover and band system. Apple’s patent describes a segmented watch band with a nest portion that sits where a standard Apple Watch does on the user’s wrist. The patent shows a detachable housing within that nest with an image sensor and lens that looks through a cutout portion of the watch’s bottom housing.
As outlined in the filing, a future Apple Watch could allow users to quickly detach the Watch from the nesting portion, which remains strapped to the wrist, meaning the Watch itself could be held up to capture photos. This is only a slight departure from the current Apple Watch design, which includes a pair of quick-release points on either side for changing the band. In regular use, the Apple Watch would function as it does now, with its camera hidden against the wrist until the user wanted to capture photos or videos.
The patent describes various ways to release the watch from the wrist, including a latch or magnet. The nest portion could also provide openings for the existing sensors featured on the bottom of current Apple Watch models, including sensors to monitor heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and body temperature. Recent models even allow users to perform an ECG in select countries. Persistent rumors have suggested future health sensor technology, including the ability for the Apple Watch to check blood pressure and possibly even blood sugar.
While the new patent describes an interesting approach to wristwatch photography, it’s not Apple’s first exploration into an Apple Watch camera. Last May, a patent presented a watch design that integrated a camera into the Apple Watch’s signature digital crown. It would be a stealthy spot for a camera and wouldn’t disrupt the status quo of Apple Watch design.
However, there would be much more space for an image sensor and lens on the underside of the Apple Watch; a camera in the digital crown would require incredible engineering. In the case of a camera inside the crown or on the bottom of the watch itself, it’s easy to imagine the Apple Watch face acting as an electronic viewfinder. The device seamlessly connects with an iPhone, so there’s significant potential for remote image capture and live streaming.
As is always the case with patents, they may not indicate an imminent product release. That said, it’s clear that Apple continues to explore ways to integrate a camera into its popular wearable. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a future Apple Watch model offer users a new way to capture photos and videos on the go. Even without a built-in camera, the Apple Watch is a great accessory for photographers thanks to helpful watch faces and interesting apps.
Image credits: Header photo by Brandon Romanchuk.