Why would anyone use Digital Crown on an iPhone?

What if all those iOS devices worked together?

Apple, Apple Watch, iOS, iPhone, Digital Crown
Apple

There are claims Apple is considering bringing the Digital Crown over from the Apple Watch to the iPhone, but why does this plan make any sense?

Contrasting philosophies

Patently Apple has identified a couple of Apple patents that suggest bringing a Digital Crown-style controller to the iPhone. I can see why it may be useful to some people, but is it really necessary? Has Apple really reached a point at which it confused “nice to have” with “essential to use”? They are not the same things and combining them is a conflict of design philosophies.

You see, I get that the digital crown on the Apple Watch is a more useful version of the winding mechanism you’ll find on a “normal” watch, but this is a legacy from the watch category. 

It makes sense on a post-modern timepiece, but you can set your clock with my prediction that where such an extruding contraption featured on iPhones it would cause problems. These things want to work on your wrist but I warn you will break while in your pocket.

Also read: What to expect from Apple in 2017

Think lateral, not literal

That’s one way of looking at it. So let’s try another: 

Apple’s patent descriptions have some interesting ideas of how Digital Crown behavior could improve the user interface.

“The 3D UI concept would even help Apple Watch users being able to have each side of the cube represent the most used apps like Mail, phone calls (future), contacts, games, iWork and so forth,” Patently Apple explains. This could be quite compelling, says 9to5Mac.

What if it’s not about iPhones?

I don’t see much value in placing an additional solid-state interface on the side of existing iPhones.

It feels like a step backward within the context of your smartphone becoming a single, intuitive object you interact with using your voice, gesture, and touch. Apple just got rid of the headphone jack and is thought to be planning wireless charging for future iPhones, so adding another mechanical point of failure just doesn’t make sense.

So let’s imagine the interaction doesn’t take place on your iPhone. Think about this as a continuity feature that enables you to easily access apps and services that are held on your iPhone using the Digital Crown on your Apple Watch.

Where do AirPods fit in?

I am expecting Apple to introduce an Apple Watch that’s equipped with its own 4G connection next year. This will be a big boost to app developers and will enable many consumers to replace their phone with their watch.

Used with a set of AirPods, you’ll be able to listen to music, take and make calls, get help from Siri, and all kinds of other interactions, including with apps.

One big challenge when using apps will be the lack of screen real estate. Most of us will want to be able to access much bigger displays than the one we find on our watch.

That’s why many of us will go grab ourselves an iPad or iPhone. Or perhaps a set of connected iOS eyeglasses, which work in conjunction with all your other iOS devices and provide what feels like a 21-inch display, controlled using voice, gesture, and touch.

Within that context enabling Digital Crown to have an active use beyond that on the Watch makes much more sense.

While iPhones remain by far the most wanted product in their category, the smartphone market has passed peak growth and wearables are becoming mainstream. iPhones don’t matter any more, and I think Apple's already well on the way to its next big thing. It looks like the Digital Crown could be along for that ride.

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