Apple is researching how a single Apple Watch band could be made to change color by itself, both to color-coordinate with a wearer’s clothes, and to alert the user to information.
It’s not like Apple to try saving you money, but a newly-granted patent appears to show it doing exactly that. Rather than buying different Watch bands to match different clothes, “Watch Band With Adjustable Color” proposes that you buy just one — and it changes color.
“Users may desire the ability to customize their watch bands to express variety and style,” says the newly-granted patent. “For example, a user may desire a watch band of a particular color based on the user’s selection of clothing, other wearable articles, environment, or another preference.”
“Some existing watches offer the user with an ability to remove and exchange different watch bands for customization,” it continues. “However, this requires the user to have a separate watch band for each of the colors or color combinations that are desired.”
“Furthermore, the user is required to remove and exchange the watch bands whenever a different color or color combination is desired,” says Apple.
It’s funny how Apple can make changing Watch bands now seem like this dreadful burden, after years of boasting how simple it is. But that was back when we had “traditional watches,” apparently, and now we should be able to “control, select, and/or adjust one or more colors of the watch band for visual display.”
Apple’s patent describes the idea by referring to Watch bands with “electrochromic features.” This means that “an applied voltage” can cause “a variety of colors and color combinations to be displayed by a single band.”
While the patent attempts to describe every possible use of its core idea, the central examples revolve around bands that are made from a fabric which is itself woven from filaments.
Detail from the patent showing how a user could swipe on Apple Watch to change band color
“Some or all of the filaments can include electrochromic features,” says Apple. “For example, one or more of the filaments can include a conductor and an electrochromic layer.”
“The electrochromic layer can be electrically connected to the conductor so that voltage applied to the conductor is communicated to the electrochromic layer,” it continues. “[The] electrochromic layer can include a polymer layer… [which] can react, in the presence of an applied voltage, to change its color, as described further herein.”
Apple’s patents are typically focused on how a result can be achieved, with very little detail about what it could be used for. This one is unusual in how much it details the usefulness of a Watch band changing color for style reasons.
“The color selections can be made and adjusted without removing and exchanging the watch band,” says Apple. “Accordingly, a variety of colors can be displayed at different times without requiring different watch bands for each color or color combination.”
Once a band can be made to change color by the user selecting what they want, it can also be changed by the Watch. While the patent doesn’t list this as an example, a Shortcut that today changes an Apple Watch face at certain times of day, could equally easily change the band’s color.
What Apple does suggest is that the Watch itself could change the color “to provide a notification to the user.”
So perhaps as well as a green activity ring closing on your Apple Watch, your band could flash the same color. But Apple wants more than solely a single, overall color change.
“The color-adjustable elements of the watch band can be arranged and independently controlled,” says Apple, “in a manner that allows the system to display particular icons, shapes, and/or text by illuminating certain elements in a particular way.”
So from this color-changing technology there could also come the ability to have a text message scroll around your Apple Watch band like a news ticker.
The patent is credited for four inventors, including three — Zhengyu Li, Chia Chi Wu, and Qiliang Xu — who previously worked on research for touch-sensitive fabrics for a future HomePod.