FastCompany published a report today citing “a source with direct knowledge” of Apple’s plans for a future Apple Watch that will feature solid-state, touch-sensitive buttons instead of the clickable ones that are currently part of the device.
This will apply to both the crown and the single traditional button that brings up a view of currently opened apps. But the button configuration—which buttons exist, and where they’re located—will not change, the report says. The user will be able to touch each button to register it, but instead of the buttons moving up and down, the device will give the user haptic feedback using Apple’s taptic engine.
Apple made a similar change to the home button on the iPhone starting with the iPhone 7. Reactions were mixed, from critics who found it to be just fine to critics who found it to be undesirable. Even before that, the company did the same with MacBook trackpads, though that implementation offered better, localized feedback.
The trackpads are surprisingly good at emulating the feeling of a physical button. The Watch already has the taptic engine feature; it’s used for giving feedback with touchscreen interactions. According to this report, taptic would just be extended to the buttons as well.
The source told FastCompany that the change will be made to free up more space in the device for other components. It would help with water resistance, too. Apple is also reportedly working on adding new biometric sensors to the buttons.
Apple famously (or infamously, to some) has a long history of minimizing or ditching physical buttons whenever possible. The company has been steadfast in its commitment to having just one button on its mouse for the Mac. The current Apple-made mouse is touch sensitive, but it does press down like a button. Either side can be tapped for a right or left click, but both sides can’t be activated at once. It’s really still just one button.
The change could come in either a new Apple Watch released this year (likely in September) or in one released next year.