Watch Effect: How the Digital Crown and Force Touch could inform future iOS device design

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited May 2015
Even staunch Apple Watch detractors have to admire the technology Apple managed to pack into its first wearable platform. As Apple's "most personal device ever," Watch boasts multiple advancements to the user interface, two of which -- Force Touch and UI concepts invented alongside the Digital Crown -- we'd like to see in future iPhones and iPads.




Editor's Note: Apple frequently introduces new technologies and features in a singular new product, then gradually brings them to other devices in its ecosystem, making for a more coherent user experience. Our Watch Effect series examines how the Apple Watch's own innovations might make their way to the iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Engineering within strict power and size constrains forced Apple to build an entirely new user interface for Watch that is as efficient as it is natural to use. Not able to fall back on its go-to multitouch designs, Apple ultimately took a page out of traditional watchmaking to develop a physical control built around a crown and stem, branded on Watch as the Digital Crown.

The hardware itself is undeniably Apple. The crown rotates smoothly on its machined hub with a comfortable degree of resistance, clicks are satisfyingly tactile and the pusher mechanism feels solid. What makes Digital Crown stand apart from similar solutions, however, is how connected it feels to Watch software. When the crown moves, Watch's UI immediately responds, almost like the meshing of gears in a mechanical wristwatch.

By opting for an external control wheel, Apple smartly offloaded input commands like scrolling and zooming, operations normally handled by multitouch on iPhone and iPad. This kept fingers from obscuring Watch's small display.

Rumors at one point claimed Apple would integrate Digital Crown hardware into its iOS device lineup, but with any space saving benefits outweighed by reduced usability, the company is unlikely to move in that direction. As handheld devices, iPhone and iPad rely on their screens for nearly all user interaction. Tacking on an external wheel would do little to enhance user experience.

Apple should, however, cherry pick a few UI concepts spawned from Digital Crown interface that would survive migration to iPhone and iPad, perhaps in conjunction with another technology debuted in Apple Watch: Force Touch.




Apple's name for pressure-sensitive input technology, Force Touch uses sensors installed around the periphery of Watch's screen to measure the amount of force being exerted by a user's finger. Watch's UI responds to heavy presses contextually, for example invoking watch face customization mode in the watch app.

Force Touch already made the leap from Watch to a larger Apple product -- the all-new 12-inch MacBook -- and with bigger screen sizes, iPhone and iPad are logical next steps for integration.
After Force Touch made the leap to MacBook, the logical next steps in Apple's usual progression toward device ecosystem parity would be iPhone and iPad.

In its current Apple Watch and MacBook implementations, Force Touch is not a granular means of input; users can't force click on specific icons, for example. Bigger touchscreens provide space for more sensors, which in turn allows for greater specificity through triangulation or quadrangulation of a surface. In other words, a 4.7-inch iPhone screen could potentially lean on Force Touch to pinpoint finger input along the x, y and z axes, simultaneously.

Applied to existing iOS gestures, Force Touch could feasibly take the place of Home button double-click commands for multitasking, press-and-hold for Siri, or any number of secondary or tertiary control functions.

Circling back to Digital Crown input concepts, a granular Force Touch method on iPhone would enable the replication of UI operations developed for Apple Watch. For example, zooming in on and opening an app from the Apple Watch springboard can be accomplished on iPhone using force input. Alternatively, iPhone users may invoke app-specific menus via Force Touch, or perhaps enter a type of "peek mode" to quickly view vital information from an app without actually opening it.




Like the erstwhile iPod click wheel, Watch's Digital Crown is especially well suited to scrolling operations. Navigating a long list of contacts is arguably more intuitive on Watch than iPhone or iPad, which require multiple swipes or taps on the quick letter and number selection side bar.

Apple could, however, use Force Touch to translate the Digital Crown's rotational input into a gesture suitable for iOS. For example, a swipe-and-hold gesture could start a scrolling operation, after which finger pressure dictates scroll speed, allowing users to zip through expansive lists without lifting off from the screen.

Various patent filings show Apple is interested in bringing Force Touch to iPhone, though evidence of impending hardware integration has yet to surface. Questionable rumors in April claimed Force Touch will make its way into the next-generation iPhone "6s" series due out this fall, but limited to the larger '6s Plus' model.

As for iPad, industry speculation suggests incorporation in an upcoming 12-inch 'iPad Pro' model in 2016.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,317member
    The digital crown is awesome. Just like all previous Apple input innovations, it feels almost "magical", in terms of how fluid and responsive it is. A joy to use.
  • Reply 2 of 31
    friedmudfriedmud Posts: 163member
    Force touch is definitely coming to iOS devices. No doubt.

    What I'm wondering though... where does the digital crown go from here? Personally, I think that just like the iPod click wheel you compared to... the digital crown isn't going to stick around. Seems to me that after a couple of generations they can replace it easily by making the side/edge of the watch touch sensitive.

    You never know with Apple though... For instance, they have definitely kept a physical home button a lot longer than I thought they would. Maybe they will finally get rid of it with force touch... we'll see.
  • Reply 3 of 31
    satchmosatchmo Posts: 2,699member
    Apple seems to be pushing Force touch big time.
    Sales reps at the Apple store were in full force teaching customers how it works on the new MacBooks.

    Many struggled double clicking by habit, but it's probably just a matter of practice.
  • Reply 4 of 31
    macapfelmacapfel Posts: 563member
    And finally, there is an update to the Magic Trackpad! It is a fantastic input device – and will get even better, once force touch is implemented.
  • Reply 5 of 31
    calicali Posts: 3,494member
    friedmud wrote: »
    Force touch is definitely coming to iOS devices. No doubt.

    What I'm wondering though... where does the digital crown go from here? Personally, I think that just like the iPod click wheel you compared to... the digital crown isn't going to stick around. Seems to me that after a couple of generations they can replace it easily by making the side/edge of the watch touch sensitive.

    You never know with Apple though... For instance, they have definitely kept a physical home button a lot longer than I thought they would. Maybe they will finally get rid of it with force touch... we'll see.

    My thoughts Exactly!!

    When I mentioned my disappointment with the crown fans here flamed me disregarding all my points.

    It looks old and ancient. My idea was to have a touch sensitive edge like the "ribbon controllers" you see on keyboard instruments. Slide forward/zoom in, slide back/zoom out etc.

    A watch crown is the last thing I would borrow from the industry. Pinching those tiny wheels and cranking them was always tedious for me.
    I haven't tried an ?Watch yet so hopefully it functions better than I imagine.
  • Reply 6 of 31
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    I can't wait for force touch to come to other iOS devices. For instance in Control Center I'd love to be able to use force touch with wifi or Bluetooth so I don't have to go to settings to change wifi or pair a different device. I see a lot of interesting use cases. I have a feeling though some will argue it will make iOS too complex. To those I would say, is copy/paste on iOS too complex? Are the additional features added to the home button too complex? Are edge swipes too complex. I don't think so. I think they're all things one can get used to and once they do they'd never want to go back to a world without them.
  • Reply 7 of 31
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    cali wrote: »
    My thoughts Exactly!!

    When I mentioned my disappointment with the crown fans here flamed me disregarding all my points.

    It looks old and ancient. My idea was to have a touch sensitive edge like the "ribbon controllers" you see on keyboard instruments. Slide forward/zoom in, slide back/zoom out etc.

    A watch crown is the last thing I would borrow from the industry. Pinching those tiny wheels and cranking them was always tedious for me.
    I haven't tried an ?Watch yet so hopefully it functions better than I imagine.

    I haven't tried a watch yet either but from the reviews I've read I've seen very few complaints about it. With a touch sensitive edge or rotating bezel I'd be too concerned about accidental touches/movement. Not the case with the crown. Also you can easily use the crown with one finger without covering up the display at all. I wonder how easily that would be on a touch sensitive edge or rotating bezel.
  • Reply 8 of 31
    dick applebaumdick applebaum Posts: 12,527member
    friedmud wrote: »
    Force touch is definitely coming to iOS devices. No doubt.

    What I'm wondering though... where does the digital crown go from here? Personally, I think that just like the iPod click wheel you compared to... the digital crown isn't going to stick around. Seems to me that after a couple of generations they can replace it easily by making the side/edge of the watch touch sensitive.

    You never know with Apple though... For instance, they have definitely kept a physical home button a lot longer than I thought they would. Maybe they will finally get rid of it with force touch... we'll see.

    Actually, the curved top of the edges of the Apple Watch display are touch sensitive. Depending on the app you can pan or scroll by dragging on these areas without obscuring the screen. Nothing for zoom, though ... yet.
  • Reply 9 of 31
    dick applebaumdick applebaum Posts: 12,527member
    cali wrote: »
    friedmud wrote: »
    Force touch is definitely coming to iOS devices. No doubt.

    What I'm wondering though... where does the digital crown go from here? Personally, I think that just like the iPod click wheel you compared to... the digital crown isn't going to stick around. Seems to me that after a couple of generations they can replace it easily by making the side/edge of the watch touch sensitive.

    You never know with Apple though... For instance, they have definitely kept a physical home button a lot longer than I thought they would. Maybe they will finally get rid of it with force touch... we'll see.

    My thoughts Exactly!!

    When I mentioned my disappointment with the crown fans here flamed me disregarding all my points.

    It looks old and ancient. My idea was to have a touch sensitive edge like the "ribbon controllers" you see on keyboard instruments. Slide forward/zoom in, slide back/zoom out etc.

    A watch crown is the last thing I would borrow from the industry. Pinching those tiny wheels and cranking them was always tedious for me.
    I haven't tried an ?Watch yet so hopefully it functions better than I imagine.

    You don't need to pinch the digital crown -- just roll a single finger over the top or bottom of it.


    But, I can see the Watch tattling to the iPhone:  Hey Siri, He's force-touching me!
     
  • Reply 10 of 31
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by friedmud View Post



    For instance, they have definitely kept a physical home button a lot longer than I thought they would. Maybe they will finally get rid of it with force touch... we'll see.

    If so, they will need to locate the Touch ID somewhere else. Perhaps on the back. But I'm not sure how you are going to activate the iPhone with force touch alone. The idea of a phone that gets slipped into a bag or pocket is that when you lock it, it doesn't accidentally come on without pressing a physical button. If the home button is removed in favor of just touching the screen to wake it like on the watch, it will most likely turn into a lot of unintended device wakes, and thus power draw. Perhaps a recessed spot on the phone, or a specific spot on the screen which serves this purpose without being a physical button, but then it's really the same thing. Sometimes though, a physical button really shouldn't be replaced.

  • Reply 11 of 31
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    With a touch sensitive edge or rotating bezel I'd be too concerned about accidental touches/movement. Not the case with the crown. Also you can easily use the crown with one finger without covering up the display at all. I wonder how easily that would be on a touch sensitive edge or rotating bezel.

    I've never had a problem obscuring the dial when rotating the bezel on my traditional watches, so this would not be a problem on a round smartwatch. A touch sensitive bezel would be slightly more problematic because at some point in a complete 360 rotation your finger would briefly obscure the display, but not nearly in the same way scrolling on the screen would, and not really a big deal. And as some have suggested, a much larger "wheel" might allow for more fine-tuned adjustments than the tiny digital crown.

     

    Since as Dick Applebaum pointed out the edges of the display are already touch sensitive and can be used to scroll (no reason they could not be used to zoom as well), I wouldn't see doing this on the actual watch case any more problematic. At some point I can see them removing the digital crown once more apps have proven the display edge can be used equally as well for the same purpose. That way, the watch can be worn on either wrist without affecting the design appearance. The digital crown on the bottom just looks wrong, and probably makes Jony Ive crazy to see it worn that way.

  • Reply 12 of 31
    friedmudfriedmud Posts: 163member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mac_128 View Post

     

    If so, they will need to locate the Touch ID somewhere else. Perhaps on the back. But I'm not sure how you are going to activate the iPhone with force touch alone. The idea of a phone that gets slipped into a bag or pocket is that when you lock it, it doesn't accidentally come on without pressing a physical button. If the home button is removed in favor of just touching the screen to wake it like on the watch, it will most likely turn into a lot of unintended device wakes, and thus power draw. Perhaps a recessed spot on the phone, or a specific spot on the screen which serves this purpose without being a physical button, but then it's really the same thing. Sometimes though, a physical button really shouldn't be replaced.




    Apple already has patents for reading fingerprints through a regular screen.  If you force touch and hold on the screen while it scans your fingerprint... that should be good for unlocking.

     

    Being able to do this anywhere on the screen will be a bonus over having to hit the home button specifically.  Not too mention that removal of a physical button leads to less failure (do a google search for "iphone home button failed")

     

    But: None of this is huge stuff for sure.  I'm just musing about what could be possible with the new tech...

  • Reply 13 of 31
    friedmudfriedmud Posts: 163member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cali View Post





    My thoughts Exactly!!



    When I mentioned my disappointment with the crown fans here flamed me disregarding all my points.



    It looks old and ancient. My idea was to have a touch sensitive edge like the "ribbon controllers" you see on keyboard instruments. Slide forward/zoom in, slide back/zoom out etc.



    A watch crown is the last thing I would borrow from the industry. Pinching those tiny wheels and cranking them was always tedious for me.

    I haven't tried an ?Watch yet so hopefully it functions better than I imagine.

     

    The crown is actually really nice.  Scrolls really smoothly... and like another poster said you don't need to pinch it at all... just roll your finger across it.  You get used to it pretty quickly.

     

    I will say though: I've already had to rinse out my digital crown a couple of times.  Yes... RINSE... with water!  This is actually what Apple tells you to do: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204639

     

    The crown gets gunk behind it (sweat, dust, etc.) and starts to not feel "smooth" and kinda "sticks" after it's left for a while... so you have to rinse it out.  I can tell you that it's a little unnerving to put a $600 piece of electronics under running water!

     

    A non-mechanical way to scroll using the side of the watch would completely eliminate that... and possibly make the watch more waterproof (one less way for water to get in).

  • Reply 14 of 31
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    mac_128 wrote: »
    I've never had a problem obscuring the dial when rotating the bezel on my traditional watches, so this would not be a problem on a round smartwatch. A touch sensitive bezel would be slightly more problematic because at some point in a complete 360 rotation your finger would briefly obscure the display, but not nearly in the same way scrolling on the screen would, and not really a big deal. And as some have suggested, a much larger "wheel" might allow for more fine-tuned adjustments than the tiny digital crown.

    Since as Dick Applebaum pointed out the edges of the display are already touch sensitive and can be used to scroll (no reason they could not be used to zoom as well), I wouldn't see doing this on the actual watch case any more problematic. At some point I can see them removing the digital crown once more apps have proven the display edge can be used equally as well for the same purpose. That way, the watch can be worn on either wrist without affecting the design appearance. The digital crown on the bottom just looks wrong, and probably makes Jony Ive crazy to see it worn that way.

    Who knows what prototypes Apple has in its labs. My guess is the current designs stays for a while. Apple put a lot of time and effort in to the bands. They're not going to obsolete them that quickly.
  • Reply 15 of 31
    friedmudfriedmud Posts: 163member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Dick Applebaum View Post





    Actually, the curved top of the edges of the Apple Watch display are touch sensitive. Depending on the app you can pan or scroll by dragging on these areas without obscuring the screen. Nothing for zoom, though ... yet.



    I just tried this and I don't think it's true.  It seems to me that the content only starts scrolling once my finger barely touches the actual screen.

     

    I started with my finger way off to the side on the right and started rubbing it up and down (I know what you're thinking!  Cut it out!) and kept slowing moving it closer to the screen.  The content wouldn't start moving until just the tiniest piece of my finger "touched" the area where the actual screen is.

     

    The screen _is_ really sensitive though... so if you're not careful it would seem like you're not touching the screen but you are... just a little tiny bit.

     

    Could be wrong though... always hard to tell.

  • Reply 16 of 31
    kenh26kenh26 Posts: 15member
    Two things

    I d o find myself trying to use a digital crown on my iPhone to scroll - it just seems very natural so I would like to see it spread to other devices

    I just don't get force touch on my Watch it just seems an unnecessarily hard press - it does not seem to detect a harder press than a touch at all. if it did it would be great but it's just not that good. I don't really see what more it offers than touch and hold - am I missing something obvious? Touch and hold is simple and does work in some apps so what would force touch offer that touch and hold does not? I'm happy to be sold on it I just don't see it from my own Watch experience
  • Reply 17 of 31
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post





    Who knows what prototypes Apple has in its labs. My guess is the current designs stays for a while. Apple put a lot of time and effort in to the bands. They're not going to obsolete them that quickly.



    What does eliminating the Digital Crown have to do with changing the bands? If there's a round watch in Apple's future, it wouldn't be the only option, they'd sell it right along with the square watch, which bands will still work the way they do now. I'd be more inclined to believe they come up with some improvement on the existing bands that prevents the originals from working with the newer bands first.

  • Reply 18 of 31
    dick applebaumdick applebaum Posts: 12,527member
    friedmud wrote: »
    Actually, the curved top of the edges of the Apple Watch display are touch sensitive. Depending on the app you can pan or scroll by dragging on these areas without obscuring the screen. Nothing for zoom, though ... yet.


    I just tried this and I don't think it's true.  It seems to me that the content only starts scrolling once my finger barely touches the actual screen.

    I started with my finger way off to the side on the right and started rubbing it up and down (I know what you're thinking!  Cut it out!) and kept slowing moving it closer to the screen.  The content wouldn't start moving until just the tiniest piece of my finger "touched" the area where the actual screen is.

    The screen _is_ really sensitive though... so if you're not careful it would seem like you're not touching the screen but you are... just a little tiny bit.

    Could be wrong though... always hard to tell.

    Well ... You are right! In truth, the top of the edges, themselves, aren't touch sensitive ... but if you just broadly aim for an edge from the front, with your finger at an angle (~ 45 degrees) you'll hit the edge of the screen without obscuring anything but the very edge ...

    Like the old story of the contest between the mathematician and the engineer -- it's close enough to get the job done ;)


    400
    Edit: I am fiddling with a Watch app I wrote, that shows a table of 23 rows, 3 lines of text per row -- with about 3 1/2 rows visible on the screen at the same time.

    Each row contains two buttons that fill the row edge to edge -- so touching anywhere on the screen causes a button press.

    By flicking either side of the display, I can quickly scroll the list from top to bottom or vice versa with one flick -- 57 lines (19 rows x 3 lines).

    Flicking the crown, with some practice, only traverses about half the way.

    The flick on the edge is not detected as a touch, so no unintended button taps -- and the UEX is better than with the crown.

     
  • Reply 19 of 31
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 20,225member
    The digital crown will probably become an important tactile/physical input device for CarPlay.
  • Reply 20 of 31
    idreyidrey Posts: 647member
    So much hate for the digital crown! I like the crown, it's funtionality and its look, and how intuitive it is. I think that with out the crown the ?watch wouldn't look good.
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