Future Apple Watches could automatically accessorize with their bands

Imaging swapping out a hot pink Apple Watch band for an earth-tone green one, and having your watchface automatically change to a matching color, cutting out the (more annoying than it should be) manual customization process. According to a patent filing spotted by Patently Apple, we may actually get something like that. The patent describes a wearable and bands that have NFC chips, letting the watch automatically take action when you connect or remove certain accessories.

Apple patenting something doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll get it in the future, but it does show that there are some pretty fun ideas floating around inside the company. Beyond switching up the color palette when you attach the band, the patent says the system could launch a fitness app when you attached an athletic-style band or turn on the water-purging sound when you take off a swim band.

The idea is relatively simple: put an NFC chip in the band (the rectangle on the right) and a reader where it attaches to the watch.
Illustration: Apple

It also says that NFC could be used to communicate with components in the band, such as extra sensors and even displays. The idea of building things into the band isn’t new, but this approach could make it a bit more reliable than using another standard, like Bluetooth.

Again, it’s very possible we won’t ever see any of these features. However, the company already has a lot of the pieces in place for this. It does color matching when you pair some devices like the AirPods Max or certain models of Beats with your iPhone — the graphics show headphones with the same color as the ones you’re holding. It also has a system for NFC-based automations via the Shortcuts app on iOS. While the Watch doesn’t support that, you can tap it on GymKit-enabled exercise equipment to automatically start tracking a workout and syncing fitness data.

Unfortunately, there are a few darker ways this could be used that also have precedent. The patent notes that the system could be used to tell if you’re using an official Apple band or a third-party one. “Upon determination that a band that is coupled to the device is not an authorized band, a warning may be provided using an output component of the device, and / or one or more features of the device may be disabled or otherwise modified,” the patent says. Remember Apple’s unauthorized battery warnings? Imagine getting one of those because you bought an $8 silicone band instead of a $49 one, or not being allowed to start a workout because your watch is worried that your “unauthorized” band isn’t secure enough (that’s essentially the justification the patent provides for this use case).

Still, I can dream that we’ll get the good (cool color matching and other automations) without the bad (DRM for bands). It’s possible this feature would only work with a new Apple Watch, unless it’s secretly built into current ones or could be emulated with existing hardware, but it could actually provide a compelling reason to upgrade — something that not every generation has.

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