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Apple patents gesture control with touchscreen off, for iWatch?

Apple has won a patent on a touchscreen that works even when the display is off -- with clear applications for the rumoured iWatch.

Apple has won a patent on a method of controlling a touchscreen when the display isn't even on -- with clear applications for a wrist-based gadget like the rumoured iWatch.

The patent, granted yesterday by the US Patent and Trademark Office and spotted by AppleInsider, describes a series of gestures and taps you could make to control any smart device without looking at the screen or pressing a button.

Not only would it save time, it'd save battery power and even the need for having those extra buttons -- crucial considerations for a tiny device like a smart watch. You're effectively using the watch's screen as one big button to wirelessly control your music.

The gestures themselves have a cunning simplicity, and all relate to audio controls. Tap the screen once to pause your music, twice to skip forward or three times to skip back. Double tap and hold to fast forward within your current track, or hold after a triple tap to rewind. My personal favourite: make a clockwise circle and the volume will go up, anticlockwise and it'll get quieter.

"To provide a consistent user interface with the device, some of the particular touch gestures can match other inputs provided using a button, for example a button integrated on a wired headset," the patent says. "In such an embodiment, the same combination of tapping and holding a touch input and pressing and holding a button can control the same electronic device operations."

But if your screen doesn't have to be on, how will it know whether you really meant to touch it or not? Accidentally knocking a device that's strapped to your wrist is actually less of a problem than one you keep in your bag or pocket, and because it's a capacitive screen, you have to touch it with something that can complete the circuit (ideally your finger), so your cuff wouldn't do anything.

The graphics shown in the patent look like a recent model of the iPod nano, which you can click into a watch strap.

An Apple patent for a watch-like device appeared last month, and boss Tim Cook said the company was "looking at new categories" of device. The news sparked a rash of rumours of other gadget makers apparently working on smart watches, with Samsung the most concrete of them. The craze was originally started by Kickstarter success story Pebble, which works with both iPhones and Android devices.

Would you bother learning a bunch of touch controls so you didn't have to look at your watch? Would you buy an Apple watch or one that works with a bunch of different systems like the Pebble? Flex your wrists in the comments below, or cast a watchful eye on our Facebook page.

Image credit: Patently Apple