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The next Apple Watch could have a new-look Digital Crown

A new patent has just emerged online, providing some potential design details of Apple’s next wearable. It outlines how the Digital Crown – the little button on the side of the watch – could be drastically slimmed down.

Reading through the patent, it looks like Apple is toying with the idea of adding an “optical sensor” into its future wearables. This would allow users to control their Apple Watch by gesturing near the gadget, rather than having to physically twiddle the side-mounted button. It would be a win for strained thumbs everywhere.

Related: Best smartwatch

Detailed Image from the Apple Patent, a labelled diagram of an Apple watch tied to wrist

An image from Apple’s patent

Outlining how the new component would work, the patent explains that “a user can move a portion of a finger, hand, or limb past the input component, which detects the motion”.

Crucially, this addition means that Apple might scrap the clunky Watch button and have a flat digital crown instead, with the optical sensor mounted within.

Tons of space could be freed up because of the design switch. The opening paragraph of the patent makes a big deal out of this advantage, saying that by swapping out the traditional crown and using an optical sensor “the number of moving parts is reduced and space within the watch is more efficiently utilized”.

This, in turn, could mean that a whole new host of features are going to be squashed into the Apple Watch Series 6, which lines up with recent predictions that the new Watch will have some significant upgrades.

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In terms of how the change could affect users, Apple seems confident that people will get the hang of the new functionality fairly quickly, as “the input component provides a user experience that simulates user interactions with a crown that is rotatable and/or translatable”.

However, as is the case with all patent applications, there’s no guarantee that Apple will act on this.

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