I touched on my thoughts on a cellular Apple Watch 2 briefly when detailing WSJ’s report, but I want to expand a bit further and think out loud about the possibility. In short, I think an untethered Apple Watch with built-in cellular connectivity is inevitable, but in the short term there are other problems I suspect will be solved first. That’s not to say that Apple couldn’t introduce cellular and fix other issues, but having an embedded data connection is low on my list of requests this year.
I’ll start by saying I’m not an Apple Watch Debby Downer. I’ve worn mine every single day since it launched last year for timekeeping, fitness tracking, notifications, and occasional Siri, and I’m content enough not to stop now.
I also sync my Favorites album of Photos and my Recently Added playlist in Apple Music. Syncing primarily happens over Wi-Fi when charging, which is fine as I believe it’s the power limitation, not wireless connection, that causes this. I tend to think of my Apple Watch as a modern iPad in this sense, and the iPhone is already my hotspot when I need a data connection on my iPad away from Wi-Fi. As it stands now, Apple Watch is no different.
In the long term, it seems inevitable that Apple Watch should replace the iPhone for communication for some people. A smartwatch plus a compact Bluetooth earpiece may be better for some people than a candy bar shaped smartphone, and a cellular connection is needed to get there. I can imagine a scenario where I could wear Apple Watch, carry iPad, and not miss functionality from the iPhone. But for me, iPhone is also my go-to camera, and even if Apple Watch wasn’t under spec’d and awkward as a camera, I imagine I’d miss the large view finder; it’s noticeable enough between iPhone 6s Plus and iPhone SE.
Problems that I have now really don’t relate to needing cellular connectivity either; it’s more about missing apps and functionality. Apple Watch 2 will surely have a faster chip that launches Apples quicker, but I’d also like to see more Apple apps on Apple Watch. For example, dictating or referencing text in Notes, syncing and playing back shows in Podcasts, and adding and referencing items in Reminders are all needed. Other functionality like sending audio to AirPlay, not just Bluetooth, is needed. Apple Watch also needs a more robust Siri. And I’d love to see more watch faces or all of the current watch faces gain more customization and complication support.
Apple could do all of that and introduce embedded data with Apple Watch 2, though, but using it would depend on a couple of factors.
First, I don’t suspect I’d pay extra for a cellular Apple Watch if it wasn’t standard. Cellular iPads carry a $130 premium but that’s out of my range; $50 is the most I can imagine paying if the use cases were enticing.
Regardless of upfront cost, I wouldn’t want to pay an access fee for cellular connectivity on Apple Watch. AT&T charges me $10/month to access my data pool directly on iPad, or I can hotspot to my iPhone for no extra cost and access the same amount of data. I went along with the $120/year plan for a while, but for me it was too difficult to justify $130 extra upfront and $120/year thereafter. $10/month for data access on Apple Watch is even more difficult to imagine for me. Even $5/month at $60/year is out of range for what I can imagine.
Finally, if Apple Watch is destined to gain cellular connectivity this year or soon after, then Apple must have data that suggests cellular connectivity will satisfy some group of customers or prospective customers, but who? Analyst and investor types seem to be most welcoming of the idea of an Apple Watch with embedded cellular, which makes sense for long term success. But at the time of writing, a 57% majority of readers who responded to our poll (embedded again above) did so negatively to caring about cellular connectivity in Apple Watch.
While I’d like to see Apple Watch mature over time and gain cellular connectivity eventually, I’d find myself in the same camp as the majority of those who responded to our poll in not worrying about cellular just yet. Apple Watch can only improve with its own cellular connection, however, and there’s no major reason to wait years and years. So the bottom line here is that it’s the implementation that will determine cellular’s importance for me when it does happen.