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Apple Watch bands could reveal activity progress with discrete light-up indicators

Apple is looking for ways to add more functionality to the Apple Watch, including adding indicators to the band that can advise the wearer how far they are from reaching a fitness goal, as well as the status of other activities, without needing to look at the main display.

Published on Tuesday by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the freshly-granted patent for "Indicators for wearable electronic devices" discusses how a watch strap could be expanded from a simple fastening, by giving the user more useful data. Despite the genericness of the name referring to wearable electronic devices, the patent's text and supporting images indicates it relates to watch straps.

The band has a number of "variably illuminable" portions that are controlled by the main device. This could mean a single section that could be lit up by varying degrees of brightness, or even a segmented portion that could have individual parts lighting up over time.

As the patent suggests, it could also be made into a number of different shapes, such as a circle, a triangle, or any other arbitrary shape. While these illuminations could be on the external flat side of the band, Apple also believes it could be implemented discretely on the sides of the band.

In effect, the band would ultimately provide data that would normally be offered by the Apple Watch display, but on the band. If a user is monitoring their step count, a segmented bar could slowly fill up throughout the day as the user reaches their target, for example.

For this case, the Apple Watch would perform the monitoring of activity, and would command the band to light LEDs or another source to illuminate at a specific level.

While this does duplicate data a user could easily acquire by checking their watch, the extra indicator could save the user from needing to access the Apple Watch itself, as the information they require is available at a glance. This could feasibly save the battery life of the Apple Watch for other tasks.

The patent also suggests that the information conveyed to the user by the main display could be considered confidential or private, and that the user may not wish to see the data appearing on the display in a manner that may be easily readable by nearby people. A simple indicator could at most provide others knowledge that something is completed or a task is partway done, but only the user would know what the indicator means.

Apple registers a number of patent applications with the USPTO on a weekly basis, and while the filings show the company is exploring specific ideas and concepts, there is no guarantee it will appear in a future consumer product.

This is far from the first time Apple has considered making the Apple Watch band more useful, with some rumors of new Apple Watch functions incorporated into "smart bands" circulating since 2015.

In January 2017, Apple was granted a patent for modular Apple Watch accessories that would incorporate sensors, batteries, and other components into bracelet links. In October the same year, the company received another patent relating to self-adjusting Apple Watch bands, with the onboard tensioner able to make the band tighter in order to more accurately record the wearer's pulse.

Back plates have also been suggested as ways to add more functionality to the Apple Watch, such as a secondary battery that could recharge the primary battery while still permitting wireless charging. Other ideas linked to potential future Apple Watch releases include a way for the device to detect whether the user has applied enough sunscreen, and the often-rumored non-invasive glucose monitoring system.