• October 6, 2022

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Apple has revealed plans for a radical upgrade to the Apple Watch that will raise privacy concerns.

In a recently-granted patent, Apple details a range of designs that install a tiny camera inside an Apple Watch. Such a camera would give users the benefit of being able to take pictures without having to reach for their iPhones. However its inconspicuous design, would also potentially increase the obvious risks associated with covert photography.

One such design places the camera in the watch’s ‘digital crown’, enabling the user to point their wrist at a scene in order to take photographs or video using the watch display as a viewfinder. While this may prove convenient, it would no doubt make it easier to take photos unnoticed or in situations where cameras or phones are not permitted (just google ‘watch camera’ and you’ll receive multiple ‘spy camera’ results.)

Apple’s much-publicized stance on privacy should alleviate most concerns, however, and this is backed up by many references to privacy within the patent document itself, although these tend to focus more on data protection for the wearer rather than the subjects of any photographs that might be taken with the new camera.

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Another design places the camera on the rear of the watch. In this case, Apple envisages the user removing all or part of the watch from their wrist in order to reveal the camera and take pictures. This could be made more practical by using some sort of quick-release mechanism rather than having to unfasten the whole watch strap. This option raises fewer privacy concerns but is obviously less convenient for taking photos.

Such watch-based cameras may appear to be of limited practical use, but several competing examples already exist, as do third-party camera add-ons for the Apple Watch. This shows that there is some demand, at least, for cameras in a watch

Furthermore, Apple envisages its watch cameras having multiple functions, such as detecting the movement of physical controls like the digital crown or measuring physiological data such as heart rate.

Regardless of photographic quality, or the lack of it, the more the Apple Watch is able to sense its surroundings, the more useful it will become, perhaps in new ways we have never envisioned. The other side of that coin is that we may have to get used to there being many more less-than-obvious cameras around.

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