Future Apple Watch Digital Crowns might have touch and light sensors

What you need to know

  • A new Apple Watch patent revolves around a new Digital Crown.
  • The Digital Crown could gain light and touch sensors.
  • Those sensors would change how the crown is used by watch wearers.


A new Apple patent suggests the company is working on a new type of Apple Watch Digital Crown that could include touch and light sensors to detect when a finger is present. That finger could then be tracked to allow the watch to know when the crown is being used.

The patent, spotted by Apple Insider and titled “Crown for An Electronic Watch,” carries the US patent number 20200041962.

As the patent suggests, a new Digital Crown could feature an optical sensor that would take images and then compare them during an interaction. If a change is detected, the watch would then interpret that as movement. Potentially, of a crown that doesn’t actually move itself.

In order to detect motion using the image (e.g., the stored image), the image sensor may analyze multiple frames to determine, for example, a speed and direction of one or more features in the image. The features that are analyzed may include features of a user’s skin (e.g., fingerprints, hair follicles), or any other optically detectable feature, texture, surface irregularity, image, or the like, of any object. In this way, the device may be responsive to skin (e.g., the skin of a user’s finger or hand), a stylus, a gloved finger, or any other suitable object with optically detectable features.

Such an implementation would allow users to continue to wear gloves – something that can hinder traditional touch-based systems like those found in an Apple Watch’s display.

The most obvious use for something like this is to allow swipes and taps of the face of a Digital Crown to be used as new input methods without the crown needing to be pressed.

But as ever, this patent might never result in a product. I always round these patent posts out with the same warning and I’ll do it again. Not every patent turns into something you can buy from Apple and the company patents almost everything its engineers come up with. Take this with a pinch of salt, but who knows – we might just see Apple Watch Series X with a new Digital Crown.