Apple has announced plans for a big change to the Apple Watch that will make people worry about their privacy.
Apple just got a patent that describes a number of ways to put a tiny camera inside an Apple Watch. Users of such a camera would be able to take pictures without needing to pull out their iPhones. But because it doesn’t stand out, it could also increase the risks that come with it.
One of these designs puts the camera in the “digital crown” of the watch. This lets the user point their wrist at a scene and use the watch screen as a viewfinder to take photos or videos. Even though this might be useful, it would make it easier to take photos without getting caught or in places where cameras or phones aren’t allowed (just google “watch camera” and you’ll get a bunch of results for “spy camera”).
Most worries should be put to rest by Apple’s well-known stance on privacy, which is supported by the fact that the patent document itself makes many references to privacy. However, these tend to be more about protecting the wearer’s data than the people who might be in photos taken with the new camera.
The camera could also be put on the back of the watch. In this case, Apple thinks that the user will take off all or part of the watch to get to the camera and take photos. This could be made more useful by using a quick-release system instead of having to take the whole watch strap off. This choice makes less of a threat to your privacy, but it’s also less convenient for taking photos.
This kind of camera on a watch might not seem like it would be very useful, but there are already a few competing models, and the Apple Watch can be upgraded with third-party camera add-ons. This shows that at least some people want cameras in their watches.
Apple also wants its watch cameras to be able to do more than one thing, like track the movement of physical controls like the digital crown or measure things like heart rate.
No matter how good or bad the photos are, the Apple Watch will be more useful, maybe in ways we haven’t even thought of yet, the more it can sense its surroundings. On the other hand, we may have to get used to seeing a lot more cameras that aren’t so obvious.