Among the many reasons to own an Apple Watch is the number of times it can save you from having to pull your iPhone out of your pocket, and a new patent recently granted to Apple could one day see yet another useful iPhone feature brought to the wearable: Touch ID.
Although Face ID is often an effortless way to unlock a smart device, many users still pine for Touch ID, which provided instant access to an iPhone or iPad while it was sitting on a desk or table, without you having to pick it up and look directly into its front-facing cameras. When Apple started to phase out the home button (where the fingerprint sensor was located) from its various devices, Touch ID also started to disappear. Although, for devices like the 4th generation iPad Air and the 6th generation iPad Mini, which lacked Face ID cameras, Apple integrated a fingerprint sensor into the lock button instead. Now, a series of new patents reveals that Apple might be considering a similar approach for the Apple Watch, which lacks a camera.
It’s important to remember that every new patent awarded to a company doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a feature or a product destined for consumers. Most of the time, companies patent an idea just in case it could be useful in the future, or as a way to prevent its competitors from bringing a similar feature to their own products down the line. It’s a messy system that’s often abused, but it occasionally helps give insights into a company’s product roadmap, especially for secretive companies like Apple, and adding Touch ID to the Apple Watch seems like it would be genuinely useful as a real life innovation.
According to the recently granted patent for an “Electronic device having sealed button biometric sensing system,” the fingerprint sensor would be incorporated into the Apple Watch’s side button, which would be potentially increased in size and slightly stick out of the wearable, similar to how the digital crown dial does now. As with the lock button on several iPad models, you would simply need to touch a finger against the button to authenticate a user through their fingerprint, while the button could still be physically pressed for other functions, like quickly accessing Apple Pay.
Apple Watch users can now use Apple Pay to easily pay for purchases by tapping their wearable to a payment terminal, but it requires a passcode that has to be entered whenever the watch is taken off and put back on. The idea is that if an Apple Watch with Apple Pay active is stolen, it can’t be used for a spending spree without knowing the user’s passcode. But passcodes and passwords are annoying and easy to forget; Touch ID on the Apple Watch would eliminate the need for them.
Touch ID on the Apple Watch could even be integrated with its connected iPhone. If an iPhone user is struggling with Face ID when wearing sunglasses or when responsibly masking, they could potentially unlock their phone with a quick finger tap on their smartwatch instead. Unfortunately, even with all the rumors swirling of new Apple Watch Series 8 features like fever detection, Touch ID coming to the wearable this soon—if ever—is a long shot.