Rumors of a FaceTime camera-equipped Apple Watch have been circulating for years, and a just-issued patent (via AppleInsider) sheds light on how Apple could make it work. Rather than placing one camera inside the Watch body, the company is considering placing twin cameras in a band, then using automatic image processing software to make photo and video recordings usable.
Integrating one camera directly into the Watch might let you look directly into the lens for calls, but it would limit both the size of the camera — a major consideration given Apple’s engineering trends — and the angle you could shoot from. By mounting two wide-angle cameras on the band, Apple suggests that users could “capture images of themselves or their surroundings,” either by using the overlapping output from both cameras together or by cropping just a person’s face from whatever the cameras are seeing.
Automatic cropping with facial recognition is the key to using this camera system with FaceTime. The patent suggests that the user could register his or her face for automatic tracking or select other tracking targets on the screen, and the Watch would automatically keep focus on the correct face to broadcast into individual or group FaceTime discussions.
Another key element of the patent is an image-processing algorithm that could present the user’s face from a flattering angle, rather than up the nose. Multiple solutions are offered, such as basic angle adjustment, using previously recorded facial data, or replacing a real face with an animoji- or memoji-style avatar.
What’s particularly interesting about this concept is that it’s clearly been in the works for some time. Though the patent was just granted today, it was filed back in September 2016, predating the release of iPhones and iPads with the depth-sensing cameras that would enable the facial scanning and real-time avatar concepts it discusses. Whether Apple adds the feature through a separately sold Camera Band accessory, bundles it with a next-generation Apple Watch, or skips it altogether remains to be seen — as works in progress, patents should always be taken with a grain of salt.
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