Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Cellular frees the Apple Watch Series 3

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.


I’ve been surprised by the negative reactions I’ve seen to the idea of embedding cellular connectivity in an Apple Watch. Sure, there are plenty of reasons you might not need it—from the added cost (both of the device and in terms of monthly carrier-access fees) to the desire to leave your phone behind and be truly disconnected from the world.

But for a lot of people, I suspect that having an Internet-connected Apple Watch is going to be freeing. Up until now, the act of leaving the house without your iPhone has also meant dumbing down your Apple Watch. With all connectivity and its iPhone buddy gone, you can still use the Apple Watch, but it’s not nearly as good.

(Now, is watchOS 4 a capable enough operating system to provide apps enough power and flexibility to run independently of an iPhone? Everything I’ve read and heard suggests that it’s still not. This needs to be an area of focus for watchOS 5.)

I take my iPhone with me everywhere I go when I leave the house. It’s how I communicate with my family and friends. I can call for help in case of an emergency. I refuse to be away from home without it, not for a second.

Now picture that world with a cellular Apple Watch Series 3 in the picture. All of a sudden, my Apple Watch is no longer just an accessory that’s always wirelessly tethered to my iPhone. If I’ve got my watch on—and I generally do, all day—I can choose whether it’s worth bringing my phone with me to wherever I’m going.

If I’m going on a run, I’d love to be able to stop having my phone bouncing in my pocket. (I’m never buying one of those arm-band things.) I can walk to the store to buy some milk (with Apple Pay, so I can leave the wallet at home too) without my iPhone. I can walk the dog without my iPhone. And in a future where I’ve got a cellular Apple Watch, I will do those things. My iPhone will no longer be obligatory—and if I don’t think I’ll use it, I’ll leave it behind.

Now, there are a lot of details that need to be filled in with actual use of the Apple Watch Series 3. Is the microphone as good as it sounded from the demonstration stand-up paddleboarder Apple placed on the shores of Lake Tahoe? Will the connectivity with my iMessage account and phone number truly be seamless? Will my watch apps get very confused when they lose connection with my iPhone? How sad will I be when I start paying $10 per month to add my watch to my AT&T wireless plan? And, yeah, will I kill my Apple Watch battery life if I use it for a phone call for more than a few minutes?

We’ll see. But this is a huge step forward for the Apple Watch. The next step is to make sure watchOS and its apps are powerful enough that I don’t end up bringing my iPhone with me anyway—not because of a need for connectivity, but because my watch won’t properly play podcasts or let me participate in a Slack conversation.

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