Smartwatches have always felt a bit lacking for one big reason. A device like the Apple Watch just couldn’t do enough on its own to justify giving Apple more money for yet another gadget. Now, at long last, the smartwatch may be at a turning point.
As expected, Apple announced a new version of Apple Watch at its big fall event today, one with cellular capability built right in. Finally, your fancy future watch can do things without being tethered to the physical vicinity of your phone, letting you go out into the world without carrying that expensive rectangle in your pocket.
“This has been our vision from the very beginning” Apple’s Jeff Williams said.
Introducing the watch section of the presentation, Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked how it lets wearers “lead a healthier life” and showed a video of happy Apple Watch owners saying things like, “With Apple Watch I’m becoming a better version of myself.”
If you’ve watched Apple events in the past couple of years then you’ve heard this notion before. Apple’s marketing for its smartwatch relies heavily on positioning it as the ultimate fitness tracker. Indeed, that was the most compelling use case for wearing an expensive GPS-laden computer on your wrist. The non-cellular version could display notifications and make calls, but only by piggybacking on the phone in your pocket. The device was much more interesting as a super Fitbit that not only was tied into your phone but also would lead you to the thin, happy person inside you waiting to come out.
Now Apple has figured out how to work in LTE, and without making the watch so thick that it feels like a “house arrest bracelet,” as Williams joked. That makes the smartwatch a world more interesting, and helpful.
Let’s stay with the fitness example. I have a test unit smartwatch I wear to track my runs, but I also wear my phone on a bulky armband because you can’t stream music to a watch and you can’t stay in contact with the world without your phone. The cellular watch solves both of these problems and lets you run free while the phone stays home. Or consider going to the beach, or any other activity where you might lose or damage your precious phone.
Williams mentioned that Apple Watch Series 3 would sync up with your phone’s apps and plan. (You’d use the same phone number, etc.) What he didn’t address is the big question of paying for all that data. If you start chewing up the megabytes streaming Apple Music while your run, are you going to reach the end of your data allowance that much faster every month? Are we all going to start forking over even more money to the carriers now that we can use data on our wrists everywhere all the time?
What we know now is that Apple Watch Series 3 goes for $399 for the cellular version and $329 for the non-cellular version, with order starting September 15 and deliveries starting September 22. The future is freedom to move. Whether most of us can afford it is TBD.