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Apple Watch Straps May Someday Track Your Hand Gestures

Future Apple Watches could have more delicate finger tracking, an Apple patent application suggests.

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, telecom industry, mobile semiconductors, mobile gaming
David Lumb
2 min read
The new Apple Watch SE on a wrist
Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Apple Watches monitor activity and biorhythms using sensors on the smartwatch's underside that press against a wearer's wrist. But future versions of Apple's wearable could use sensors in the watch band to track hand gestures too, a new patent application suggests.

When an Apple Watch wearer makes a hand gesture, muscles and tendons in the wrist shift, sending electrical signals that could be tracked by electrodes threaded through the watch band, according to the patent proposal. Figures show the range of movement such a band could track, including palm up and down, rotating the wrist clockwise or counterclockwise, and lateral motions (like when waving). 

Apple Watches already have accessibility features that allow users to control their watches by pinching a thumb and finger or clenching their fist, as pointed out by AppleInsider, which reported earlier on the new patent application. Increasing gesture recognition capability could expand accessibility in general.

Read more: How to Buy a Smartwatch: The Biggest Questions to Ask Yourself

Having more ways to track body movement could lead to improvements in fitness and health monitoring, too, by using your flexed arm position for more precise workout measurements. If the gesture detection is sensitive enough, it could lead Apple to find ways for its wearables to control other devices, whether to play games or navigate around Apple TV menus.

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That's far in the future, when -- or if -- such a sensor-laden wristband ever makes it to production. While Apple has been able to include more sensors and harness existing ones in its smartwatches to track more metrics like blood oxygen level and skin temperature, it remains to be seen whether the company can make a flexible band that can add more bio-tracking to the Apple Watch's body-monitoring arsenal. We're still years away from getting smart wearables that function well enough to replace our existing wardrobes.

Correction, April 7 at 4:42 a.m. PT: This article initially misstated the status of Apple's filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office. The document is a patent application, awaiting a ruling by the USPTO.