Apple Watch’s Digital Crown Mess!


In my short period with the Apple Watch, I noticed how confused people are when clicking on the digital crown, including Apple Store employees. The digital crown is Apple Watch’s primary button, akin to the iPhone’s home button. Being curious as to why people were confused, I started mapping out the principal interface states of the watch (which took ages!).

Clicking the digital crown allows you to inconsistently reach three different screens using two actions (single and double clicks). You can sometimes reach the watch face, the home screen, as well as the last used app, depending on what screen you were previously on. Sometimes and depending are bad attributes for a user interface. Here is the state diagram that maps the interface behaviour when clicking the digital crown button:


The problem stems from the app as well as home screen behaving differently depending on what screen you were on previously. If you reached the home screen from the watch face (the two central home screens), a double click returns focus to the watch face. If you reached the home screen while returning from an app (the lower two home screens), a double tap will return the focus back to the previous app. We also have inconsistent digital crown behaviour when using an app (the right two app screens), it again depending on your previous screen. In other words, identical looking screens behave differently depending on your previous state. WTH Jony? You can do better!

My guess is that Apple classifies the watch face as a mix between an app and an interface, i.e. you are returning to the watch face app. But it clearly isn’t an app. The watch face is somewhat of the central focal point of the interface when clicking the digital crown alone. In addition, notifications and glances are only served from the watch face, making it the most important interface screen.

Enough chit chat, the current take-away for users of the Apple watch while using the digital crown are:

I’m surprised how Apple designed its primary watch button in such a confusing manner. This is atypical for Apple and particularly so for a brand new product line with as yet relatively basic functionality. For one, the digital crown should probably be simplified to only switch between two different screens, rather than the current three. But most importantly, clicking behaviour has to be the same no matter what screen you were on previously. Apple, please be more consistent and fix this in Watch OS 1.1!

As it’s too easy to complain without being constructive, I’m going to add a quick suggestion for a cleaner, more consistent and logical digital crown clicking behaviour, still using three screens. Single clicks switch between the watch face and the home screen, as is now the case. Double clicks take you to the last used app and then the watch face. Simple does the job.



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