Next-gen Apple Watch could use solid-state haptic buttons

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Apple Watch goal
Wave goodbye to physical buttons!
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

The next-gen Apple Watches have so far avoided physical redesigns in favor of under-the-hood improvements. That could change this year, however, according to a new report.

Sources in Apple’s supply chain claim that the Apple Watch Series 4 will replace the current physical buttons on the device for solid state buttons with haptic feedback. While the device will retain the same button configuration as existing Apple Watches, these buttons won’t physically click as before.

Instead, they will work in a similar way to the haptic iPhone home button featured on newer, non-iPhone X handsets. As Fast Company explains, “Rather than reacting to the user’s touch by physically moving back and forth, the new buttons will vibrate slightly under the fingertip, using the haptic effect Apple calls the Taptic Engine.”

The digital crown will continue to physically rotate to navigate through content.

The advantage of haptic controls

As noted, this isn’t the first time Apple would move away from physical buttons on its devices. The iPhone 7 replaced the tactile home button on the iPhone with a haptic one, while iPod control wheels and MacBook trackpads have also embraced solid-state technology instead of moving parts.

Not only does this help avoid a possible failure point on the devices, but it gives Apple more space for other components, too. In the case of the Apple Watch, this could mean a bigger battery. It will also allow Apple to make the Apple Watch more water resistant than previously.

In addition, Apple is supposedly working to use the buttons as sensors which could gather health data, such as users’ heart rhythms. In the future, it is working to eliminate buttons on the Apple Watch entirely. Instead of using buttons, users will interact with the device by touching specific sides of the device itself. This would allow Apple to further streamline the Apple Watch for aesthetic reasons.

The haptic controls are planned to debut with the Apple Watch this year. If not, they will arrive with the 2019 model.