Apple Resurrects The Scroll Wheel

After seeing countless competitors release smartwatches, Apple just unveiled its Apple Watch. At the heart, it looks a lot like Android Wear devices — it’s a tiny square touch screen strapped to your wrist. Yet, Tim Cook immediately stated that the company went through many iterations before finding a good user interface. In particular, navigating on the watch relies on the crown, a tiny scroll wheel reminiscent of the one you could find on your BlackBerry phone or iPod.

Whenever you want to zoom on a map, you can just turn the crown. If you’re reading a message thread, you can scroll through the thread with the same tiny wheel. Finally, if you want to go back to the home screen, you press the crown.

“What we didn’t do is take the iPhone and shrink the user interface and strap it on your wrist,” Tim Cook said.

You won’t find a tiny keyboard to answer your emails; everything has been redesigned for the watch. When you receive a message, there are a few predefined replies, but you can also send a customized emoji, which doesn’t look like something you’re going to use very often.

The home screen is an infinite grid of tiny rounded icons. You move around the home screen by swiping your finger on the display until you find the app you’re looking for. The home screen looks like a tiny map of apps; find the right app and zoom.

As with other smartwatches, the Apple Watch is mostly about notifications, widgets and music control for now. It only works with the two new iPhones, the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s. You can also control your Apple TV and use Apple Maps on your watch and get directions directly on your wrist. While you can pay with your watch using Apple Pay, you will still need to turn on your iPhone 6, as Apple Pay uses Touch ID.

Contrary to your iOS device, the display is also a giant clickable area. “As well as sensing touch, the display also senses force,” Jony Ive said in a video. The watch sees the difference between a tap and a press. This is useful to avoid accidental taps.

Developers can create apps. Twitter, American Airlines and Starwood Hotels were demoed onstage. It’s a brand new ecosystem for app developers with interesting new use cases. You can open your Starwood Hotel room by waving your watch at your door lock. While it’s still unclear, the Apple Watch will probably have a new App Store to manage these apps.

Overall, the user interface is very polished and shares familiar design cues with iOS. It doesn’t look like a toy when it comes to both hardware and software. Getting used to the crown will take a bit of time. That is, except if you were an avid BlackBerry user.

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