Affiliate Disclosure
If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our ethics policy.

Apple looks beyond health for a large array of future Apple Watch sensors

Apple Watch already has many health sensors, but now it may be looking to measure more

Apple has been researching what more sensors can possibly be fitted into an Apple Watch, and specifically ones that are not related to health.

It's practically an inevitable pairing — Apple Watch sensors are health ones. Ever since Apple shifted Apple Watch marketing away from fashion and more towards health benefits, Apple has doubled down on fitness and medical in hardware too.

Maybe because it's done all it can with today's technology, though, or maybe it's had enough of being sued by medical firms. For two newly-revealed patent applications show the Apple Watch potentially gaining sensor such as:

  • anemometer
  • bolometer
  • heat flux sensor
  • solar radiation
  • thermometer
  • water sensor

An anemometer detects air speed and wind direction, while a bolometer measures radiant heat. Both the heat flux sensor and the thermometer measure heat levels.

One of the newly-revealed patent applications, "Electronic Devices With Anemometers," obviously concentrates on the first of these possible sensors. And it provides a rationale for why anyone would want their Apple Watch to know whether the day is windy or not.

Graph showing temperature versus time with two curves peaking at point labeled T1 and descending, indicating a cooling process.
So many things can be determined based on how long it takes metal to cool

For example, the air speed may be used in combination with fitness applications (e.g., when calculating a user's power output while exercising in the wind)," says the patent application, "[and] weather sensing and/or forecasting, temperature measurement, and/or or other desired functions."

This patent application is careful to say that the proposal can apply to any electronic device. But most of the example descriptions, and all of the illustrations, are for an Apple Watch.

The other newly-revealed patent application, is broader. "Electronic Devices With Multi-Function Environmental Sensors," even sets out its stall in the title — this is about adding sensors to many different devices. Again, though, its few illustrations chiefly depict the Apple Watch.

Both also use the same wording refer to how "it may be difficult to incorporate some environmental sensors into an electronic device where space is at a premium," such as the Apple Watch. That space constraint may be why Apple is pursuing these four sensor types — because they all work in similar ways.

With small variations, the six sensors each rely on the heating and cooling of metal.

"To make one or more of these measurements," says the multi-function patent application, "a layer of metal may be coupled to the device housing, or a strand of metal may be incorporated into a mesh that covers one or more components, such as a speaker or microphone, inside of the electronic device."

"The layer or strand of metal may be heated to a known temperature," it continues, "and the decay of the temperature of the metal back to an equilibrium temperature may indicate the air speed."

"To measure ambient temperature, a reference resistor may be used, and the decay of the temperature of the metal may be compared to the decay of the reference resistor," says the patent. "If desired, the layer or strands of metal may be used to determine solar radiation and/or the presence of water."

The two patent applications are credited to a total of four inventors, with three of them listed on both.