Optical sensors could replace Apple Watch's Digital Crown | Cult of Mac

Optical sensors could replace Apple Watch’s Digital Crown

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If the Digital Crown is gone, you can't accidentally smash it.
If the Digital Crown is gone, you can't accidentally smash it.
Photo: David Snow/Cult of Mac

Apple Watch’s Digital Crown helps users take full advantage of the watchOS interface, beyond using the wearable’s touchscreen. But it looks like future Apple Watches might ditch the crown in favor of optical sensors, according to a new patent the Cupertino tech giant filed.


Patently Apple reported the US Patent & Trademark Office published a new patent from Apple showing how optical sensors could replace the Digital Crown. The sensors could identify user gestures, turning them into commands.

Removing Digital Crown would make for fewer moving parts

According to the report, the new patent’s name is “Watch with optical sensor for user input.” It demonstrates Apple’s optical sensors can help users scroll through the interface. And by removing the need for the crown, the sensors also reduce the number of moving parts in the Apple Watch.

In addition to upping that durability factor — no crown means you can’t break it — Apple mentioned in the patent taking away the crown makes space. Other components in that space could include new sensors or a larger battery.

As Apple said:

For example, 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.

Look, ma, no Digital Crown. An image from the patent shows optical sensors replacing it.
Look, ma, no Digital Crown. An image from the patent shows optical sensors replacing it.
Image: Patently Apple

Optical sensors’ health features

The Digital Crown also features an electrical heart sensor that makes ECG readings possible. The patent shows that the new optical sensors may measure heart rate, blood oxygenation level, blood pressure, breathing rate and more.

Rumors have said the 2022 Apple Watch will add health features, including blood pressure monitoring.

It’s worth noting that not every patent necessarily results in new products or product features. And if Apple decides to replace the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown with optical sensors, it might not happen right away.