For some reason, the tech industry keeps trying to recreate the Dick Tracy watch. No one really knows all of the properties of a Dick Tracy watch. It now refers to any wrist-worn device that can make audio and video phone calls, and perhaps launch a missile in a pinch. AppleInsider reports that a new patent gets them a little closer.
“According to a patent granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, the tech giant is looking to broaden the feature set of its wearable by incorporating a novel camera system capable of automatically cropping in on subject matter, tracking objects like a user’s face and generating angle-adjusted avatars for FaceTime calls.
“Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 10,129,503 for an ‘Image-capturing watch’ details a hardware and software solution that makes a camera-toting Apple Watch not only feasible, but useful.”
This is not a new idea. Apple first filed the patent back in fall of 2016. There is no reason to believe they were waiting on the patent before launching a product. It is just that there are many issues to be worked out that were too difficult to solve at that time.
Samsung was first to market with a camera watch. The Samsung Galaxy Gear and Gear 2 were less Dick Tracy and more Inspector Gadget. They could do everything, but nothing particularly well. The video and still camera features were panned as pointless in that form factor.
Apple’s idea was to point the camera toward the wearer for FaceTime calls. But on a watch without enough battery power for an always-on display, such a camera would have been well ahead of its time. There was also the problem of the unfortunate angle. Nose cam would have been a problem. There was also the matter of quality in a camera so small and thin.
These are no longer the problems they were just two years ago. Apple is able to get much better battery life from the watch. Camera tech has also greatly improved. But the biggest advancement is computational photography.
The patent proposes a system that allows the camera to extrapolate what the face looks like at a more flattering angle and substitute that for the actual image, something like what it does with Memoji and Animoji. The challenge could still be battery life. We know that the Face ID camera on the iPhone is rather large, not feasible for a watch. Even if you get something small enough, it would require quite a bit of CPU, which in turn, eats up a lot of battery life.
It is possible that a special watch band could hold components for extra compute power. But there is still no hint as to how Apple would solve the missile-launching issue. Till then, the Dick Tracy watch remains fantasy, for now.