Apple developing series of new gestures for future Apple Watches

in Future Apple Hardware edited March 14

If you think the pinch gesture on the new Apple Watch models is impressive, Apple may have more and larger gestures in store in future versions of watchOS for you.

A hand wearing a smartwatch with options 'REPLY' and 'DISMISS' displayed, and a finger pressing 'REPLY'.
By sliding your hand side to side you can control the Apple Watch with this new technology.

The patent application details several new ways to control Apple Watch with a new array of gestures. The new functionality could radically change how users interact with Apple's smartwatch and future wearables.

One of the most interesting new gestures described in the patent starts with the palm flat and fingers outstretched, then moving the fingers from side to side horizontally. If you play blackjack, you'll be familiar with this motion, as it's the same as telling a dealer that you'd like to stand.

In the illustration above, this "side-to-side" motion could be used to reply to a text message or answer a call and can be combined with other gestures. A clenched fist is central to many new user interface [UI] elements.

A line drawing showing a hand with a wrist-worn device displaying four options: YES, NO, MAYBE, SEE YOU THERE.
Clenching a fist and rotating the wrist are combined to select items.

Like the pinch gesture, the clenched fist could select a button or accept a suggested text reply. Clenching the hand and rotating the wrist, you can scroll through suggested responses or decide whether to answer a call or send it to voicemail.

Many gestures are shown, such as launching countdown timers to prevent accidental actions like answering a call from your credit card company instead of sending it to voicemail. To answer a call, you need to clench your hand, rotate your wrist, and hold your hand in that position for a few seconds.

In practice, this is similar to the SOS interface in the Apple Watch when it detects a fall or other accident. Before calling 911, the Apple Watch displays a timer, allowing the user to stop the call if the Apple Watch is mistaken about needing help.

Technical drawing of a smartwatch with a call notification on the screen, located near a person's wrist.
The interface provides a countdown timer on actions to prevent accidental selection.

A practical application of this technology would be to rotate the wrist when a call is coming in and then hold the hand in position for a few seconds to answer the call.

The pinch gesture on the Apple Watch always felt like the start of an interface system rather than a fully fleshed-out UI system. These new gestures round out a system of controlling the Apple Watch with additional natural gestures.

The pinch-to-select motion is already used in VR and AR systems, including x, although the Apple Watch is unique in that it uses the movement of the hand muscles to detect the pinch. VR tools like Meta Quest use cameras to detect the pinch, so Apple's implementation on their watch stands out only in how the gesture is detected.

The new gesture control system continues Apple's approach of using motions and hand positioning to control a device, which not only gives you many more ways to control interactions with the watch but also gives you ways to perform functions when two-handed use isn't possible.

As a cyclist, I wear my Apple Watch on rides and often have to stop to reply to a text quickly. The noise of the wind makes speech-to-text impossible, so the only safe way to send back a message is to stop riding.

The pinch gesture solves many of these safety problems, but its use is limited. Controlling my watch's functionality by simply making a hand gesture and rotating my wrist could open up new ways to safely keep in touch with the world.

A drawing of an Apple Watch smartwatch on a wrist with text message options displayed on its screen
New gesture control would allow you to select from the pre-filled replies to texts.

The new gestures Apple has planned are part of a patent application, and there's no way to know how long it would take for a patent to be granted, so this functionality could be a few years off. When the new features arrive, they have the potential to improve the ways you interact with your Apple Watch significantly.

Apple credited the patent to Jefferey Traer Bernstein, who is credited on several Apple patents, including one for interacting with a device through gaze detection. While that patent likely is part of Apple's Vision Pro, combined with gesture-based controls, it could offer a more gesture-centric approach to using devices.

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