Why the Apple Watch Can’t Be Very Thin

Reading the recent New Yorker profile of Jony Ive, I realized something about the Apple Watch.

“Ive places the new watch in a history of milestone Apple products that were made possible by novel input devices: Mac and mouse; iPod and click wheel; iPhone and multitouch. A ridged knob on the watch’s right side–the Digital Crown–took its form, and its name, from traditional watchmaking. The watch was always expected to include a new technology that had long been in development at Apple: a touchscreen that sensed how hard a finger was pressing it. (A press and a tap could then have different meanings, like a click and a double-click.) But the Digital Crown, a device for zooming that compensated for the difficulty of pinching or spreading fingers on a tiny screen, was ordered up by the studio. In a reverse of “skinning,” Ive asked Apple’s engineers to make it. In time, the crown’s role grew to include scrolling through lists.”

I realized that the Apple Watch can’t be very thin. Unlike a watch that you wind once a day, where you can either take the watch off to wind it, or pull it away from your wrist to grasp the crown, you need access to the digital crown all the time. As such, there has to be enough room under the digital crown to be able to grasp it.

Apple watch digital crown2

As you can see in the photo of the Apple Watch, the device is fairly thick, partly because the body itself is thick, and partly because of the sensors that protrude underneath the body. Unlike the iPad and MacBook Air, Apple will be limited in the device’s thickness, in part, because of the digital crown. Not only because of its diameter – it’s much larger than the crown of a watch – but by the fact that you need to be able to turn it comfortably, at any time. You can see that the digital crown is not centered according to the thickness of the watch; it’s a bit higher than the center line, because you need to be able to get a finger underneath it.

Apple will certainly be able to make a smaller digital crown, but there will still have to be enough leeway to be able to use it.

So, while the first Apple Watch certainly looks clunky, I don’t think we can expect a radically thinner model in the foreseeable future, at least as long as the digital crown is one of the main ways of interacting with the device.

18 thoughts on “Why the Apple Watch Can’t Be Very Thin

  1. “you need to be able to get a finger underneath it.”

    Really? That doesn’t make any sense to me. You control it by touching the upper portion.

  2. “you need to be able to get a finger underneath it.”

    Really? That doesn’t make any sense to me. You control it by touching the upper portion.

  3. As I understand it Apple Watch must maintain skin contact for the security features. If you lifted it away from your wrist, you’d have to reauthorize it (whatever that involves).

  4. As I understand it Apple Watch must maintain skin contact for the security features. If you lifted it away from your wrist, you’d have to reauthorize it (whatever that involves).

  5. You don’t need to be able to get a finger underneath the digital crown. You can interact with it fully by rotating it with your finger from the top.

    The thickness of the Apple watch is due to:
    1. Sensors
    2. Battery

    Having a battery that can last 2 days – ideally 1-2 weeks – requires sufficient mass. Most of the internal space is probably taken up by the battery.

    • I have a feeling that merely rolling it from the top may not be precise enough. Also, if that were the case, I’d expected it to be centered, which it isn’t. That extra space made available to the underside of the digital crown is clearly because it is needed.

  6. You don’t need to be able to get a finger underneath the digital crown. You can interact with it fully by rotating it with your finger from the top.

    The thickness of the Apple watch is due to:
    1. Sensors
    2. Battery

    Having a battery that can last 2 days – ideally 1-2 weeks – requires sufficient mass. Most of the internal space is probably taken up by the battery.

    • I have a feeling that merely rolling it from the top may not be precise enough. Also, if that were the case, I’d expected it to be centered, which it isn’t. That extra space made available to the underside of the digital crown is clearly because it is needed.

  7. Since it is a virtual non-winding crown it could have been designed *angled up* and/or smaller. Given the reported battery limitations – an addition to the fact that most of the internals of iPods and iPhones are filled with battery – we already have the most reasonable explanation for the current design.

  8. Since it is a virtual non-winding crown it could have been designed *angled up* and/or smaller. Given the reported battery limitations – an addition to the fact that most of the internals of iPods and iPhones are filled with battery – we already have the most reasonable explanation for the current design.

  9. I could imagine that a way to solve the digital crown would be to place a thin piece of glass integrated in the watch with built in sensors so when you swipe the finger along the glass line, it would be detected as “scrolling” or “zooming”. It could be nice to also remove the external part since it is easier to break.

    Personally I was quite disappointed to see that the crown was a part of the watch, cause I know how much trouble there has been with home buttons and external buttons on the other devices. Also I used to wear a normal watch, and have several times experienced how the crown hung on the threads and parts of the clothes, hairs etc. It is an object that easily can be damaged if you are and every day user and a wrist watch.

    By building in sensors, we reduce thickness, external parts, and the possibility of breaking certain parts of the watch. And possibly also production costs (which would be VERY nice) .

    • You can already swipe and scroll, so the digital crown just gives you another way to do the same thing. As such, I never use it.

      • True indeed. Though I believe that the crowns functionality (not the crown itself) can be valuable when used in certain apps – hence the idea of simply replacing the crown with something more durable. Looking at the Samsung Edge, the dedicated line along the side would be ideal for the user of an apple watch, since you remove the finger from the display itself but still remove the crown. And it would be easy to implement in the right side of the empty margin next to the display as well.

  10. I could imagine that a way to solve the digital crown would be to place a thin piece of glass integrated in the watch with built in sensors so when you swipe the finger along the glass line, it would be detected as “scrolling” or “zooming”. It could be nice to also remove the external part since it is easier to break.

    Personally I was quite disappointed to see that the crown was a part of the watch, cause I know how much trouble there has been with home buttons and external buttons on the other devices. Also I used to wear a normal watch, and have several times experienced how the crown hung on the threads and parts of the clothes, hairs etc. It is an object that easily can be damaged if you are and every day user and a wrist watch.

    By building in sensors, we reduce thickness, external parts, and the possibility of breaking certain parts of the watch. And possibly also production costs (which would be VERY nice) .

    • You can already swipe and scroll, so the digital crown just gives you another way to do the same thing. As such, I never use it.

      • True indeed. Though I believe that the crowns functionality (not the crown itself) can be valuable when used in certain apps – hence the idea of simply replacing the crown with something more durable. Looking at the Samsung Edge, the dedicated line along the side would be ideal for the user of an apple watch, since you remove the finger from the display itself but still remove the crown. And it would be easy to implement in the right side of the empty margin next to the display as well.

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