While I haven’t worn an Apple Watch 100% of the time since the release of the Series 0, I have owned every single one. There are benefits to wearing one for health reasons, and there are also reasons to wear one for connectivity purposes. I particularly love owning a cellular version so I can go running without my iPhone or make a quick trip to the store. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I could see future versions of the LTE Apple Watch as a great first cell phone for kids. There has been something that has frustrated me about the Apple Watch from the first day I owned it to today, that’s when Apple Watch doesn’t have a network connection. Is it time for Apple to release a version of Wi-Fi Assist for Apple Watch?
Here’s an example of what happens: I’ll have my iPhone downstairs on the charger. I’ll be upstairs to play with my kids, clean up, etc. I’ll want to look up something via Siri, and I’ll realize my Apple Watch is in this in-between state of being connected to my iPhone via Bluetooth, not using Wi-Fi yet, and not even attempting to use the LTE connection. The Apple Watch will fail at looking up something with Siri, it’ll time out on email, and be slow to send iMessages. It’s extremely frustrating to own a device that has three ways to connect to a network but doesn’t do any of them.
Here’s what I think is happening: to conserve battery life, Apple Watch prefers to be connected to the iPhone at all times. When I am in my house, I get in these situations where I am just close enough to the iPhone for it to try to tether, but not do anything. If I was any further away, I’d be on Wi-Fi. Since I am in a weird in-between state, Apple Watch just fails and gives up (which isn’t ideal).
On a recent episode of Under the Radar, David Smith and Marco Arment talked about what they’d like to do with the power gains in future versions of Apple Watch. David talks about how as the Apple Watch has improved battery life, Apple hasn’t made the actual watch battery last a lot longer, but rather they’ve added things like cellular, faster processor, etc. This process is very similar to how the iPhone, iPads, and Macs have progressed. We still don’t have a Macbook Air that lasts for days without charging, but rather as battery technology has improved, Apple has leveraged that for additional features while keeping the same battery life. David mentioned that he’d like to see continuous heart rating monitoring for Apple Watch. Marco mentioned that he’d like to see an always-on Apple Watch face.
This episode got me thinking about what I would want Apple to do to fix this long-standing problem with Apple Watch. I would like to see a setting for future versions of watchOS that has a version of Wi-Fi Assist for Apple Watch. Here’s the official description of Wi-Fi Assist for iOS:
With Wi-Fi Assist, you can stay connected to the Internet even if you have a poor Wi-Fi connection. For example, if you’re using Safari with a poor Wi-Fi connection and a webpage doesn’t load, Wi-Fi Assist will activate and automatically switch to cellular so that the webpage continues to load. You can use Wi-Fi Assist with most apps like Safari, Apple Music, Mail, Maps, and more. When Wi-Fi Assist is activated, you’ll see the cellular data icon in the status bar on your device. Because you’ll stay connected to the Internet over cellular when you have a poor Wi-Fi connection, you might use more cellular data.
How I see this working on Apple Watch is that as soon as watchOS realizes it can’t complete a request over Bluetooth, quickly connect to Wi-Fi, and if that fails, quickly jump on cellular. Even if it used more battery, that would be better than the request failing. Right now, when the Apple Watch fails at completing a task, it completely negates the purpose of the device.