Why Apple Watch’s Digital Crown will be a thing of the past

“It’s been my contention from the start that the Digital Crown is little more than aesthetic accoutrement, an homage to the history of timekeeping where something a bit more modern would be a lot more useful and durable. The scroll and zoom functions that the thing performs can be equally achieved via a clickable touch panel, minus the seemingly commonplace potential for obstructive environmental buildup through regular use,” Andy Faust writes for WatchAware. “A further benefit to such a touch-based solution would be inertial scrolling, perhaps with an edge-hold function to eliminate the need for multiple spins of the current hardware. In terms of device longevity, moving parts are the bane of mobile technology. And the more moving that those moving parts do, the more likely they are to break down.

Faust writes, “In a couple of years, Apple will understand that sales no longer need (and probably never needed) the skeuomorphic Digital Crown to entice traditionalists, at which time I expect the company’s assembly and bottom lines to both insist on its obsolescence.”

Read more in the full article here.

“Because the simple reality is that it isn’t needed. It’s a complex moving part in a platform antithetical to hardware delicacy. The solid state has always been the mobile ideal, and we’ve always been moving towards it. Yet the Digital Crown rotates about a delicate spindle, gets gunked up through normal daily use, and — though tactile enough — is not even as responsive or useful as the cheaper, more durable alternative would be,” Faust writes. “It’s not as responsive or useful as a touch panel.”

“Note, however, that I do not say ‘touch screen,’ as I am not suggesting that the Digital Crown’s functions be replaced or reimagined for on-screen us,” Faust writes. “Rather, I am saying that there is ample space on (in?) the Apple Watch bezel to put a dedicated touch panel that would replicate the Digital Crown’s entire utility in the same way Apple’s Magic Mouse replicates the traditional click wheel.”

Read more, and see the diagrams of how an Apple Watch without a Digital Crown would work, and work better than today’s Apple Watch, in the full article – highly recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: One could view the Digital Crown in much the same way as the original iPod’s mechanical click wheel which taught users the UI concept and how to use later iPod models’ capacitive-sensing click wheel. Looked at this way, the mechanical Digital Crown is a teaching aid, letting us spin and click mechanically until we’re ready for the more advanced virtual “Digital Crown.”

Plus, in a skeuomorphic manner, the mechanical Digital Crown is a familiar element for a wristwatch, so it makes it easy to accept Apple Watch on your wrist. Then, later, when users realize what Apple Watch is, and how it works, they’ll no longer need such hand-holding. It’s a very Apple-like way use things that people recognize from the real world in order to introduce a strange new product.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “Dan K.” for the heads up.]


    1. The fallacy in the article as well as in MDN’s take is that people won’t buy a whole bunch of Apple Watches, more probably just one, in their lifetimes. This so called (darwinian?:) “evolution” of the “user” doesn’t exist.
      As later generations of users finally decide to buy an Apple Watch, the “device” will surely have evolved, not the user.

        1. I just want my MacBook to know what I am looking at on screen using the iSight camera and respond to what I say with Siri.

          Or my Apple TV to track my sight and gestures.

          Even the watch could benefit someday from tracking what part of the interface you are looking at.

          Our eyes provide a lot of info that isn’t being used yet.

    1. Good ideas come from everywhere, not even Apple has every good idea.

      And Apple may well have planned this from the beginning.

      My idea for the Watch is more radical: the Apple Watch+

      I want a much larger screen on my wrist, or even the back of my hand with a fingerless glove instead of strap. Today that would look unfashionable but recently large screen phones were laughed at.

      Apple understands that initial form factors need to be friendly, but can then evolve to better suit their much greater capabilities once people get used to doing more.

      1. Advantages:

        Much bigger screen for easier reading and more controls
        Much longer battery life
        Far easier to maneuver as a camera
        Easier to maneuver to give apps visual info
        Back-of-hand screen would work well for augmented reality.

        And lasers. Much more room for lasers.

  1. The Digital Crown is like the scroll wheel of the very first iPod. It turns physically, to scroll through a list on the screen, and do other things like change sound volume and location in current song. There is a button in the middle, which is like pressing the crown on Apple Watch.

    In later iterations of iPod, the wheel became touch-based (no longer turned physically). But it was still conceptually a “wheel.” It is likely that the same type of “progression” will happen with the Digital Crown.

  2. I read the article but I’m not totally convinced. I love the digital crown and it works wonderfully! Some of things he mentions as being cumbersome and inefficient really are not at all. Some of his ideas are kind of cool but it seems like a lot of nitpicking over something that is already implemented so well.

  3. I first saw the value of the digital crown when I used it to adjust the volume of music I was listening to on headphones with my iPhone. What an absolutely perfect way to adjust the loudness, so much better than repeatedly tapping or pushing a button. Slick and very easy to control. It’s nice for scrolling the screen too. I want a digital crown on the iPhone now.

    1. Well, you could always use your nose, but yes, that’s a very good reason to keep it.

      Another good reason is that the crown is a really great way to adjust the volume. You don’t have to even look at your watch, let along make sure to swipe exactly in the right spot and the right amount.

      This is a case of have a physical input mechanism that is perfect for specific tasks. The author is confused because they are evaluating it for other tasks.

  4. The Digital Crown MAY be replaced in a few years when there is something better to replace it. I don’t think there is one ready yet. Getting something like that right takes time.
    In the meantime, there’s no hurry.

  5. I never use the digital crown. It’s completely unnecessary. There isn’t anything the digital crown does that can’t be done on the touch screen instead. I don’t think Steve a Jobs would have approved the inclusion of the redundant digital crown.

    1. It’s not unnecessary. Some people don’t want to obstruct that small screen with their big fingers. I certainly wouldn’t want swiping the screen to be the only way to customize a watch face.

  6. This is the very first time I’ve read any criticism of the Digital Crown (apart from it getting gunked up). Rather, I’ve read nothing but praise that Apple did NOT force users to scroll etc. on the tiny screen with the relatively huge human finger obscuring what you’re trying to manipulate. Therefore, I have a big ‘HUH?’ in response. i don’t think he’s quite thought this through.

    Concept: A touch scroll on the SIDE of the watch, leaving the screen unobscured while removing the moving part Digital Crown. Apple already has patents for such technology applied to the iPhone, as of yet unintegrated. Or at least that is what I recall from a couple year’s back of hanging around MDN.

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