ACCORDING to a new patent filed by the tech giant, the next generation of Apple Watches could soon have on-board cameras. And if they do get upgraded, the camera won't be where you'd expect.

A US patent filing granted this week shows how Apple plans to place a camera module inside the smart watch's flexible wristband to allow users more freedom when aiming the lens.

The patent details Apple's concept, including drawings, showing how the camera will sit on the end of the wristband.

A hidden optical cable buried inside the band will then send image data back to the watch.

Apple's reasoning behind their unique design is to overcome "a potential barrier to smartwatch adoption is their minimal image-capturing ability."

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Diagram demonstrates how the hypothetical camera would be used. Picture: Apple/USPTO
Diagram demonstrates how the hypothetical camera would be used. Picture: Apple/USPTO

HOW IT WORKS

Apple's patent proposes fitting the camera module in a "malleable" wristband, so you'd be able to bend and prop up the lens against the watch.

And for selfies, there are other options. The wristband could either be fitted with two camera modules - one facing outward, the other facing inward - or the camera module could be built on top of a rotatable hinge. Plus, they may even be able to shoot 360-degree video.

Apple supposedly vetoed the idea of tacking a camera onto the watch's body as it would force the wearer into "uncomfortable and awkward positions."

"A user's arm may also become fatigued when trying to record a video from the smartwatch's rigidly mounted camera," the company added.

Whether we actually need a camera on a smartwatch is debatable, although there might be times when you do want to take a quick snap and you don’t want to carry your phone with you. Picture: Apple/USPTO
Whether we actually need a camera on a smartwatch is debatable, although there might be times when you do want to take a quick snap and you don’t want to carry your phone with you. Picture: Apple/USPTO

While cameras have appeared on smart watches before, we haven't yet seen a wrist-based selfie snapper make a splash in the mainstream market. There was talk of LG integrating a camera into their wearable after Samsung did it last year - Samsung's 2013 Galaxy Gear First Gen had a strap-mounted camera, and the Gear 2 had a 2-megapixel camera built into the watch's body.

Even though it's been done before, Apple's timing could make all the difference now that we are past the "peak smart phone" period, futurist and business technologist Steve Sammartino told news.com.au.

"For the first time in ten years, smart phone sales declined in 2018, dropping by 5 per cent globally. Their advantage in smart phones is slowly dwindling, as cheaper models and android phones increasingly match and even outperform Apple from a hardware perspective, especially within the camera realm," he explained.

"Cameras are increasingly the killer app of the internet. Who has the best and most cameras win - having a smart watch that can do all that the phone does will be where the next device game is won and lost by tech giants."

WHAT THE APPLE FUTURE LOOKS LIKE

Mr Sammartino believes the smart watch upgrades will be Apple's ticket to long-term success. "The concept for malleable cameras, multidirectional cameras and integrations which could be patent protected could set another ten years of dominance for the company."

Amid the hype, some are suggesting these upgrades are proof that Apple are moving one step closer to phasing out iPhones.

As Apple explained, "A smartwatch that has the capability of capturing images and video may provide an opportunity for users to be more reliant on their smartwatch and less reliant on other devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, digital cameras)."

But expert Steve Sammartino can't see it happening any time soon. "The iPhone is Apple's most profitable product and currently represents 60 per cent of its profits - it would be very difficult to replace that quickly," he said. "However, the watch is the most likely candidate."

While the next generation Apple Watch may look like an exciting future development, Apple has been known to patent new technologies the company is considering, and some never even make it into production.

Do you think this one should? Let us know in the comments below.

Apple says the invention would free us from the need to carry an iPhone, at least some of the time. Picture: Apple/USPTO
Apple says the invention would free us from the need to carry an iPhone, at least some of the time. Picture: Apple/USPTO