Apple is investigating making essential Apple Watch components, such as the display, do double duty by incorporating Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, UWB, or other antenna functions.
If you can't make Apple Watch components any smaller, maybe you can make each of them do more to earn their place in the device. Apple has recently been looking at how to make the Apple Watch battery replace the haptic engine, and now it's researching ways to incorporate antenna into multiple different parts of the watch.
"Electronic Devices Having Millimeter Wave Ranging Capabilities," is a newly revealed patent application which aims to employ a "phased antenna array." Instead of including one bulky antenna, taking up a lot of space in the Apple Watch, Apple wants to spread out the "wireless communications circuitry" across the chassis.
"[It] may be desirable to implement at least some of the antennas in [a] device using portions of electrical components that would otherwise not be used as antennas," says Apple, "and that support additional device functions."
"As an example, it may be desirable to induce antenna currents in components such as [the] display)," continues the patent application, so that the display, "a touch sensor," or a "housing," could be used to "serve as an antenna for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cellular frequencies, and/or other frequencies without the need to incorporate bulky antenna structures."
Such an embedded antenna would also spread out the reception of wireless signals. Then circuitry coupled to this "phased antenna array" could be "configured to perform spatial ranging operations on an object external to the wristwatch," based on the signals it sends and receives.
The patent application details multiple different ways of adding a phased antenna array, and significantly "for conveying first signals at a first frequency between 10GHz and 300GHz and a non-millimeter wave antenna for conveying second signals at a second frequency below 10GHz."
Apple has not elaborated on its purpose in the Apple Watch — yet. The company is expanding its use of UWB, and it's expected that it will play a key role in the forthcoming AirTags technology.
Regardless of the specific signals being transmitted or received, though, the principle is that space can be saved by this method, and that possibly reception could be improved. Such an array could have receive a broader range of signals in the same space that a series of antenna could pick up, for instance.
The invention is credited to eight inventors. That includes Jayesh Nath, whose previous related work includes research into embedding antennas in screens.