A new patent filing suggests that Apple has sophisticated plans in mind for the celebrated Digital Crown on its Apple Watch. Bearing in mind that we've seen previous patents suggesting that Apple could do away with the little dial, it sounds like the Californian company has multiple options on the table - perhaps even for the Apple Watch Series 6.
The patent, spotted by the folks at AppleInsider, describes a more sophisticated version of the current digital crown, though it would likely be located in the same place on the watch's side.
This crown would have the capability to take images of objects pressed onto it, which one can only assume would generally be the user's fingers.
Interestingly, the patent says that a possible consequence of this change could be that the crown wouldn't be able to rotate infinitely, as it does currently, but might instead be limited to a single turn at a time before resetting. However, because of the touch sensor, users would also gain the ability to swipe across the crown to control the watch.
All this might sound like the new crown could be a perfect way for Apple to integrate its Touch ID security system onto the Apple Watch, but the sensor being described actually isn't sophisticated enough to manage that biometric scanning. Instead, it would just be detecting touch and working out what sort of movement was being made by comparing frames it captures.
Light sensing, too
The other, more complex side to the patent is related to light-sensing. It indicates that the new crown could use this sensor to pass data about its surroundings to the watch for more efficient usage (perhaps meaning brightness levels, for example).
The implication of all this is that Apple sees the Digital Crown as a key area for innovation as its watches move forward. It's already used it to great effect as part of the ECG monitoring that the Series 4 and 5 brought in, but clearly can do even more with time.