Should Apple Watch’s digital crown come to iPad? [Friday Night Fights]


Would you use it?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple Watch’s digital crown is yet to make its way to other Apple devices, but that could soon be about to change. According to a recent patent application, Apple is already exploring the idea of bringing the feature to the likes of the iPad.

Friday Night Fights bugBut would a digital crown make sense on a larger device, or will it feel out of place? Will it actually add useful functionality that enhances the user experience, or would it be little more than a useless gimmick that’s there for the sake of it?

Join is in this week’s Friday Night Fights as we battle it out over whether the digital crown deserves a place on the iPad and other Apple products.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: I should preface this by saying that, no, the iPad doesn’t need this — any more than it needed the Apple Pencil to make the iPad Pro stand out. But could I see the digital crown adding some neat functionality to the iPad? Sure I can.

For starters, we know that iPad sales continue to decline, largely because there isn’t enough variation between generations to make it compelling for people to buy a new tablet every year or so. I’ll admit that I’m torn here, since I don’t like the idea of grafting on gimmicks simply to sell a device, but I think the digital crown is a really neat, intuitive control element for the Apple Watch. With the iPad, it could replace the existing volume buttons, while having the added benefit of being able to perform additional functions — such as easily increasing text size or camera zoom without having to obscure the display with your fingers to do so. If it got the digital crown and the iPhone didn’t, it would additionally add a level of differentiation — much like the iPad Pro does with the Apple Pencil.

It would also add greater design language cohesion between Apple’s products, and may even boost Apple Watch adoption since it would make the digital crown a more widely-used (and therefore understandable) control mechanism.

Just about the only thing that would concern me would be the fact that it would jut out of the side of the device and could therefore be a fragile point. But I’m sure Jony Ive and his underlings could come up with an elegant solution for that.

What do you think, Killian?

Apple Watch Sport green
The digital crown makes sense on Apple Watch. But on iPad?
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: I think it’s pretty ironic that this time last week, you were calling for Apple to make things simpler — and now you’re sat here suggesting it should add unnecessary features to its devices just to add some “neat” (but totally irrelevant) functionality.

A digital crown makes perfect sense on the Apple Watch for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s intuitive: if you’re a watch wearer, you’re used to using a crown already. It’s also ideal on a device with such a small display, because it allows you to scroll and navigate the user interface without using your finger, which would obstruct your view.

Neither of these things are valid when we’re talking about adding a digital crown to the iPad, or the iPhone, for that matter. It would not be intuitive, and it is simply not necessary on devices with larger displays that aren’t  obstructed by the tip of your finger when you’re using them. It would make no sense whatsoever.

Maybe it would be cool to have a digital crown for certain functions — like camera zoom. But on a larger device like the iPad, it would not be suitable for adjusting things like volume or text size because it would be too easy to brush up against it and change things inadvertently. Imagine if you’re watching a movie with headphones on in bed, you reach over to grab a drink and accidentally crank the volume all the way up.

The other reason why it wouldn’t make sense on the iPad is because the device is designed to be used in any orientation. Unlike on the iPhone, which won’t turn the interface upside down, iPad adapts to whichever way you’re using it. That would become tricky with a digital crown.

And I certainly don’t think having a digital crown on any other device will boost interest in Apple Watch. It’s such a small feature; it’s like suggesting that putting lights on skateboards will lead to higher demand for table lamps.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: I can almost see the wheels in your brain turning as you write that last line, Killian! You do make a good point about the placement of the digital crown and how it would work when it comes to the changing orientation of the device, but I think there are UI ways that Apple could protect against accidental brushes of the digital crown.

I would never suggest that Apple uses the digital crown on the iPad in the same way that it does on the Apple Watch, but I never stated it needed to: just as it doesn’t use Force Touch/3D Touch or regular capacitive touch in exactly the same way on different devices.

In terms of what I said about making Apple’s product line simpler, you’re conflating too issues: having too many devices in different categories and the devices themselves being simple. With that said, I don’t see any reason why a digital crown couldn’t add functionality to the iPad without keeping the iPad’s same ease-of-use — much as has happened with the Apple Pencil.

Look, I’m not saying that this would be a revolutionary addition to the iPad that would fundamentally transform our usage of it, but I think dismissing it out of hand is incorrect. It seems that Apple is keen to push the iPad (and particularly the iPad Pro) as a productivity tool. Additional inputs like a digital crown could certainly help with that, don’t you think?

iPad Pro
A digital crown would definitely look out of place here.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Killian Bell FNFKillian: Ugh. How could software tell the difference between accidental brushes and intentional rotations? The only surefire way to do that would be to just disable the crown completely when the iPad is in certain orientations, which would make it even more pointless than it already was.

Actually, Force Touch and 3D Touch are used in the same way with all of Apple’s touchscreen devices. Sure, there’s no Peek and Pop on Apple Watch because it just wouldn’t be useful on such a small screen — but presses still do the same thing fundamentally, and that’s provide access to additional options and features that would usually require several taps.

Besides, making the digital crown work differently on iPad would only complicate things even further.

You keep suggesting a digital crown would be as useful as the Apple Pencil, when that’s clearly not the case. Apple Pencil actually solves a problem, meets many needs, and again, is intuitive; tablet owners have been using styluses for greater precision for years. A digital crown would not solve a problem on the iPad or the iPhone, and it definitely wouldn’t make these devices more productive.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Well, it seems like we’re not going to agree on this any time soon. I think the digital crown could be a neat addition to the iPad, and would add far more than it would take away. You seem to disagree — although I’m sure you’d be defending the hordes of Android devices that would steal the feature in the immediate aftermath. But let’s turn it over to readers?

Do you think the digital crown would have any interesting use cases for the iPad? Or is Apple barking up the wrong tree with this particular patent application? Leave your comments, thoughts and verdicts below. And have a great weekend!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?


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