A recently filed patent application focused on preventing burn-in with OLED screens hints that Apple could have plans to bring an always-on display feature to the Apple Watch at some point in the future.
While the method Apple describes in its patent application doesn’t necessarily prevent burn-in on its own, it does outline a technique that continuously adjusts the brightness and colours of specific areas of the display to mitigate the problem.
Rather than an actual solution itself though, Apple’s patent primarily relates to the storage of usage data required to make the above feature operate.
“To address this concern, burn-in statistics–which record historical usage information associated with a given OLED display–can be used to artificially adjust the operation of the OLED display to substantially restore visual uniformity throughout its operation.”
A more lengthy excerpt from the patent application that expands on the proposed feature can be found below:
Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays–which are becoming a popular choice for computing device displays–can degrade in a non-uniform manner over their lifespans and lead to unwanted color/brightness artifacts. To address this concern, burn-in statistics–which record historical usage information associated with a given OLED display–can be used to artificially adjust the operation of the OLED display to substantially restore visual uniformity throughout its operation. Notably, such burn-in statistics can take the form of a high-resolution, multiple-channel image that consumes a considerable amount of storage space within the computing device in which the OLED display is included. For obvious reasons, this consumption can dissatisfy users as their overall expected amount of available storage space is reduced for seemingly unknown reasons. It is therefore desirable to store the burn-in statistics in a more efficient manner.
While an always-on display makes gathering at-a-glance significantly easier for the smartwatch user, it also results in substantially less battery life.
That said, various Android manufacturers have implemented solutions to this issue that involve dimming the display when the watch is placed at a resting position. For example, Motorola’s now-defunct Moto 360 does a great job of taking advantage of this functionality, giving users access to the information they need with a quick raise of the wrist, but still saving battery life.
It’s unclear if Apple eventually plans to bring an always-on display feature to the upcoming Apple Watch Series 4, which is set to be officially revealed at Apple’s September 12th event, or if it is intended for a future — or perhaps even past — version of the wearable. For what it’s worth, there’s been no mention of the functionality in the developer beta version of watchOS 4.
Of course, as with all patents, just because Apple has filed this application, it doesn’t mean that an actual product that features the functionality will ever be released. For those interested, there’s a lengthy Reddit discussion focused on the patent application in the dedicated Apple subreddit.