Apple Watch: The hardware innovations that make the device unique

BY Kelly Hodgkins

Published 5 Mar 2015

image Watch official

Apple and innovation go hand in hand with the company pushing the envelope in many of its product categories. Just look at the hardware design in the Apple Pro, the display in the Retina 4K iMac and the iPhone.  The Apple Watch is no exception, offering a variety of novel features that set the device apart from its smartwatch and analog watch competition. In the following article, we will showcase some of these innovations including the Digital Crown, Taptic Engine, Force Touch and others.

Digital Crown

From a hardware perspective, the Digital Crown is one of the biggest innovations included in the Apple Watch. It takes the traditional crown of an analog watch and transforms it into a navigation tool for smartwatch wearers.
On an analog watch, the crown is used to change the date/time and also wind the watch if needed. On the Apple Watch, the Digital Crown will serve as a home button, allowing you to tap the crown and return to the home screen. You also can rotate the Crown and use it to scroll and zoom the items on the screen without your fingers getting in the way. It’s an elegant solution to the problem of how to scroll and zoom on such a tiny screen.

The Digital Crown can be used in standard right-hand mode and also supports left-hand use by southpaws. In left-hand mode, the Watch is worn on the left wrist and held in a different orientation – the display flips and the Digital Crown is in a different location on the device.

Taptic Engine

Apple’s Taptic Engine is powered by a linear actuator inside the Watch device. The hardware provides physical feedback to the user by “tapping” them on the wrist. When a notification arrives or the user interacts with the Watch, they will feel a tactile sensation that is unique to each type of interaction. The technology also utilizes audio cues from the built-in speaker to create what Apple calls “a discreet, sophisticated, and nuanced experience by engaging more of your senses. ”

During its Watch announcement event, Apple noted how the taptic engine also allows you to send a recording or your heartbeat to a recipient who literally can feel your pulse. This usage is gimmicky if you are sharing between friends, but I could see a future usage case where the sharing of a heart rate with a doctor could be used to diagnose illnesses.

Force Touch

image Apple Watch Force Touch
In making the Watch interactive, Apple introduces its new Force Touch technology, an innovation the company claims is the “most significant new sensing capability since Multi‑Touch.” Force Touch takes advantage of the flexible Retina display of the Apple Watch by embedding electrodes within the matrix of the display that are sensitive enough to distinguish between a light tap and a deep press. The two interactions can be used to trigger contextually specific controls such as a tap to open an app and a deep press to open an action menu. Rumors suggest Apple may be expanding its Force Touch technology and bringing it to the future versions of the iPhone.

S1 Processor

Apple’s Watch will be powered by the company’s new S1 processor. Details on the hardware are sparse, but the company has managed to embed an application processor, mobile DRAM, NAND flash, wireless connectivity and other circuitry into a very small package.

Massive constraints have a way of inspiring interesting, creative solutions. A prime example is the custom-designed chip at the heart of Apple Watch. No traditional computer architecture could fit within such a confined space. So we found a way to integrate many subsystems into one remarkably compact module, which is then completely encapsulated in resin to protect the electronics from the elements, impact, and wear. Configuring an entire computer system on a single chip is an industry first and represents a singular feat of engineering and miniaturization.

We will know more about this system on a chip once the Apple Watch launches and companies like iFixit and Chipworks dissect the device and delve into its components. Rumors suggest the S1 will be as powerful as the A5 in the iPhone 4s, the original iPad mini and the iPad 2, but we will have to wait for post-launch benchmarks before we can start making claims about the speed of the device.

image Spring forward live stream
Apple will reveal the launch date and final pricing of the Apple Watch at an event to be held next week. The March 9 press event will begin at 10AM PT and will be live streamed on Apple’s event web page. We also will be providing breaking coverage of the event and analysis once the event is over. Please join us on Monday for this groundbreaking event.

Also check:

Apple Watch customization options — band styles, watch faces, and color choices

➤ What you need to know about Apple Watch’s hardware features