Google Pixel Watch and next-gen Pixel Buds could have crazy touch controls

Google Pixel Watch leak
(Image credit: @jon_prosser x @rendersbyian)

The Google Pixel Watch may be on the verge of slipping beyond its predicted May release date, but it seems that Google has some interesting ideas for its upcoming wearable, even if they don’t ship with this first generation.

A patent filed by Google to the WIPO, uncovered by LetsGoDigital, shows a “Skin interface for Wearables” where both a smartwatch and earbuds are shown being controlled by a user touching their skin. Swiping or tapping the skin near the wearable creates a mechanical wave, and built-in sensors can translate the movement into an action on the device, the patent application explains.

Included images show this working by touching the skin in front of the ear for a pair of earbuds, or by tapping or swiping the wrist, back of hand or forearm for the smartwatch.

Skin touch controls demoed on a smart watch and earbud

(Image credit: Let's Go Digital / Google)

Gimmick or game changer?

While it’s not clear whether this patent application will ever amount to anything, for me, it’s far more exciting for a possible future set of Pixel Buds than it is for a possible future Pixel Watch. I’ve never had any issues using touch controls on a smartwatch, though I appreciate having a bigger canvas to work with could be helpful for smaller watch faces.

But skin controls for earbuds? That’s a different matter. One of my main bugbears with some of the best wireless earbuds is the touch controls. When I run, I find that earbuds are constantly slipping out of my ears when I reach the three-to-four kilometre mark. Adjusting them invariably involves me accidentally pausing or skipping audio, which then requires yet more fiddling. Turning off touch controls loses the functionality, which isn’t ideal if the current track is dragging — this sounds like I could have the best of both worlds.

But a novel control system to replace touch controls gives me flashbacks to another Google innovation: Project Soli. Introduced with much fanfare in the Pixel 4, gesture controls via radar were supposed to be huge… until they weren’t. The technology was dropped for the Pixel 5, and didn’t return for the Google Pixel 6. If you want to see it in action now, you’re left looking at the sleep tracking in the second-generation Nest Hub.

The point is that new control methods don’t always catch on, no matter how good they sound on paper. Touch controls for earbuds definitely need improvement, but is this the best way to upgrade them? Time will tell.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.

  • Ed1980
    But Sony's linkbud is already doing it, tap you skin instead of the headphones, how can google patent it?
  • barepixel
    Will they be addressing the borderline nightmarish fit of the Pixel Buds? There are numerous people online that complain about them needing constant adjustment to stay in (as mentioned in the article) or causing physical canal pain with even short wear times, something I experience myself. I love wing-style buds, but the one-size fits all wing design doesn't quite work as intended with these.