What you need to know
- Wareable spotted a Google patent filing titled “Gesture recognition on watch bezel using strain gauges.”
- The patent shows sensors alongside the edge of a watch face, with “sliding” or “squeezing” gestures along the edge of the display.
- The Samsung Galaxy Watch series popularized the concept of a digital bezel as a replacement for its physical rotating bezel.
- Fitbit (which is owned by Google) frequently uses capacitive buttons that you squeeze to activate.
Samsung and Google work closely together on Wear OS software for the Galaxy Watch and Pixel Watch. Soon, based on a Google patent, the Pixel Watch 3 might fall closer in line to the Galaxy Watch 6 by replacing its haptic crown with a capacitive touch bezel — only with a signature Google spin.
Wareable discovered this U.S. patent listing from Google, showcasing a smartwatch with sensors packed into the edge of the display and no crown in sight. The patent calls crowns “reasonably efficient,” essentially damning them with faint praise, and concludes that some users “may prefer to remove the crown.”
Instead, this hypothetical Pixel Watch design would let users “press, tap, swipe, squeeze, or otherwise interact with a surface of the housing to trigger a particular response.”
In some visual exhibits of the patent in action, you can see the user swiping their finger along the display edge to turn the volume up or down in a music app. Later on, they suggest squeezing the display on both ends to pause a song, open a notification, or turn off the display.
In other examples, they suggest unique gestures like swiping left on the display bottom to switch to a new app or function. Or, you’ll be able to press and hold on a specific portion of the touch bezel to activate or deactivate a specific function, such as a flashlight in the bottom-right corner.
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Although there’s no guarantee Google will use the patent’s design in the Pixel Watch 3 next year — or at all — it’s an intriguing idea.
In our Pixel Watch 2 review, Andrew Myrick noted that Google made the crown larger to make it easier to grip but also had to add more resistance so it doesn’t spin accidentally. It’s a delicate balance with “potential pitfalls,” such as it being annoying to turn in everyday use or the crown digging into your skin when you bend your wrist during exercises.
Removing the crown entirely would give the Pixel Watch 3 a more balanced design and shed a couple of grams of weight. This patent design would also remove the second dedicated button for Google Assistant in place of touch controls.
As for potential negatives, this patented system sounds complicated and is bound to be finicky. The proposal describes the following gestures that would need to be recognized: “upwards swipe, short or long swipe, fast or slow swipe, horizontal or vertical swipe, swipe of different edges of the housing, long taps or short taps, multiple taps within a threshold of time (e.g., double tap), hard squeeze or soft squeeze, squeeze at different locations, etc.”
You have to imagine that any touch-dependent UI might occasionally mix up a tap and a swipe, how long of a swipe you meant to do, or how hard you intended to press. The patent itself notes the importance of calculating the “force, position, and/or velocity of the active finger detection.”
So it’s fair to assume Google is proposing all of these hypothetical functions but might limit how many the Pixel Watch 3 would use, depending on how accurate their bezel readings can be in practice.
Google and its partners have used squeeze gestures to activate features in the past. The Pixel 2 lets you summon Google Assistant by squeezing the phone’s sides, while the Google-owned Fitbit has released several watches and trackers with a capacitive button that you squeeze to activate, including the new Fitbit Charge 6.
Of course, Fitbit removed those capacitive buttons from the Sense and Versa smartwatch series because the gesture didn’t always work, and because a physical button was more reliable. Thankfully, at least, the Charge 6’s capacitive button functioned as intended in our testing.
Samsung has used a capacitive touch bezel from the 2019 Galaxy Watch Active 2 to this year’s Galaxy Watch 6, though plenty of people pay extra for the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic for the physical rotating bezel, which gives you more reliable controls.
We assume (and hope) that the Pixel Watch’s edge-to-edge display might make swiping your finger more intuitive than on the flat Galaxy Watch 6. Conversely, it could make accidental touches far more likely, especially if you use the watch for sleep tracking. We can only make assumptions and guesses until we can try this tech out for ourselves.
As a final point, the patent explains that this tech could be used for other devices like smartphones, earbuds, AR or VR headsets, smart glasses, or “smart motorcycle helmets.” Whether or not the Pixel Watch series takes this touch bezel route, it’s clear that Google is interested in using the technology in some of its future devices across all categories.