Apple Watch just tipped for major upgrade — but there's a nasty catch

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A new patent suggests that future Apple Watches could come with the ability to detect what type of band you’re wearing and automatically adjust the watch face to reflect that accessory. 

In theory, this would mean if you opted for a refreshing Spring Green band, your Apple Watch would adjust its face to a similar pastel hue. If you then switched to a Deep Red band, your smartwatch would reflect back a more vibrant shade. But there's a downside to this potential upgrade that would lock you in to Apple's walled garden. 

Apple Watch and Band talking via NFC

News of this potential upgrade comes via a recent patent filing spotted by Patently Apple. The patent describes a system where the smartwatch and the attached band would sport NFC chips that could interact with each other. This would allow the wearable to perform certain actions when connected to a specific band or when the band is removed. 

The feature described in the patent would change your entire watch face based on the color of the band being used.

Somewhat similar tech can already be seen on popular products such as the Nintendo Switch, which is able to detect what color Joy-Con controllers are attached and shows these colors on the system UI. Some Apple devices like the AirPods Max also do the same when connected to an iPhone, displaying the correct color headphones in iOS menus.  

The feature described in the patent would take this pre-existing concept a step further as your entire watch face would change based on the color of the band being used. On the surface, it sounds like a killer Apple Watch upgrade but it could actually be a way of turning your wrist into a walled garden.

This Apple Watch upgrade could have a darker side 

Apple Watch Ultra Alpine Loop

(Image credit: Future)

Your Apple Watch detecting what type of band you’ve got strapped to your wrist could be used in more sinister ways than just adjusting the color of the watch face to match up. 

In fact, the patent itself notes that the technology could be implemented to assess whether you’re using an official Apple band or a (cheaper) third-party accessory. Things get even more concerning when the patent notes that “upon determination that a band that is coupled to the device is not an authorized band, a warning may be provided using an output component of the device, and/or one or more features of the device may be disabled or otherwise modified.”

Essentially this could mean that Apple is looking to disable certain features if an Apple Watch owner opts for a third-party accessory rather than an Apple brand or officially-licensed product. The patent attempts to justify this by suggesting it would be a safety measure as an “unauthorized” accessory would not have passed Apple’s quality checks. The patent claims that a third-party band “may not be properly secure to the device, which can cause risk of damage.” 

Apple may be spinning the feature as a way of protecting a user from damaging their expensive smartwatch but that seems like a flimsy excuse to bring in a harsh limit on which accessories an Apple Watch user can purchase. 

It’s just an Apple Watch patent, for now 

It’s important to note that this new Apple Watch “upgrade” has not been officially confirmed for any future Apple smartwatches. Right now, we only know about it thanks to the aforementioned patent, and it may never actually see the light of day. 

Tech companies like Apple regularly file patents for all sorts of software features and product ideas. And it’s far from uncommon for these patents to never amount to anything tangible. Heck, in 2020, Sony filed a patent for a system that would let you control a PS5 console with a banana — and last time I checked you can’t play God of War Ragnarök with a piece of fruit. 

While this patent could eventually lead to the feature described being implemented in a new Apple Watch somewhere down the line, it’s far from guaranteed. And even if the feature does make its way into an Apple wearable someday, it may have been altered to function differently from what’s been described above. 

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.