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Apple Plans to Release a Cellular-Capable Watch to Break iPhone Ties (bloomberg.com)
131 points by calvin_c on Aug 4, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments

If you could make calls, respond to messages (any platform), play music from a major music service, and stay up-to-date with the most important notifications, you could basically untether yourself from your phone completely. This would be a real game-changer from a personal health standpoint. People are losing their minds with the current smartphone pandemic. I, personally, would welcome this change. It seems like an easier path toward device freedom. Since you wear it, it would feel like you've freed yourself from a screen (for the most part).

How would an even more closely (physicallyly)coupled device help alleviate whatever pandemic you think exists?

The lack of a screen capable of paragraphs and videos would cut you off from the most forms of readily available content, which would blunt the device's addictive potential.

It's similar to the theory that mandating a lower nicotine content in tobacco would curb addiction.

A watch might be worse at keeping my attention but it is even better at demanding my attention.

Getting my Apple Watch actually forced me to go through and get rid of a bunch of useless notifications also from my Phone. I didn't notice them on the phone so much - it was really great to do that.

And I already had a relatively "clean" notifications list, it's easy to get a total barage from all sorts of crappy third party games that want to beg you to play once a day.

The only thing I am longing for now is that I am on-call 24x7 and need to get Phone Calls & Messages.. you can set Do-not-disturb while sleeping to allow phone calls (all or from contacts), but not messages. I'd like to disable all notifications at night except messages or even better yet could set a per-app preference. Main reason is that I have notifications I like for youtube uploads for example, but I don't want them at night time.. which is common because a lot of channels are USA time and I am Australia time.

You are in control of that- doesn't your watch let you configure notifications?

My watch is always on mute (vibrate only) and it has only a subset of the notifications that my phone has. My experience is it is less demanding of my attention than my phone.

> doesn't your watch let you configure notifications? Doesn't your phone too?

The whole argument reads to me like "to free myself i could just get a feature phone but that would be uncool, so i will buy a smartwatch instead"

I think it's the opposite. If you want a feature phone, you don't want a smartwatch. But if you use your phone a lot, maybe a watch can reduce the friction of some of those tasks. If the laptop can stay in the bag and the phone can stay in the pocket (and the actions are just as fast or faster) then the watch is a win for me.

Do you pull your phone out of your pocket to set timers/alarms? Fire off quick texts? Do you pull your phone out of your purse just to check the time? Gee, why not put all of that on your wrist?

And the point of responding to the GP is, this super low friction doesn't have to mean even more overwhelming interruptions if you don't want it to. You can mute or DND notifications if you want.

Sounds a good argument to me.

The Apple Watch's screen already allows for display of paragraphs. You can easily read rather long emails by scrolling.

Then people will just wear more watches.

This would be pretty cool. I've started the habit of bringing a book (yes, paper!) to places to read. But, I still need to have my phone with me, in case of emergency calls or urgent messages. If the watch can do that, it'd basically act like a dumb phone with just enough capabilities to make me leave the phone at home.

I recently bought a cheap feature phone and used that for a while, especially at work. Two things pushed me back to carrying a smartphone full time:

1. Typing messages on a keypad (T9 predictive), annoying as I usually just send messages for work 2. Swapping the sim card between two phones on the weekend / evenings

Battery life was phenomenal.

Does anyone know how to copy an Australian sim card?

I have accidentally stumbled on a solution to 1., if nobody knows how to copy a SIM: I have an eleven year old Blackberry — full keyboard, not T9, and both new enough to be using the 3G network and so old nobody maintains distracting apps for it.

I can even, despite its age, use it to make a WiFi hotspot so my development phone with no credit can go online when I'm outdoors.

I had no problems with my old samsung flip phone and it's t9. I could even touch type on it without looking. But AT&T said it's radio frequencies were no longer supported.

The problem with cheap feature phones for me right now is that I can't find any supported by most US networks that don't suck. The new ones suck way more than the old ones, noticeable delays when pressing keys, etc.

I really enjoyed my pre-iPhone Helio Ocean. Only messaging apps (text,MSN,aim,yim), physical keyboard. I would probably buy a modern version with no web browser.

That's what I'm thinking. The smartphone could be left home turned off, only to be brought out when I need the GPS or similar.

As such I love the thought. It's nothing a dumb phone can't offer right now, but the convenience of it being in watch form would just be fantastic.

Android watch phones are ten-a-penny from China. Here's one for the low low price of £47:



You'd be even more sick from trying to check your FB for Apple Watch when fb notice the trend to use watch only.

A real game changer like the watches Samsung has been making for years that already do these things?

In theory, or in practice?

Developing for the Samsung Gear S2 was one of the most frustrating experiences in my life. Tizen is a trainwreck.

There are no games being changed with that platform.

Samsung makes nothing, and has never made anything, remotely close to this.

The Samsung Gear S accepted a 3G Nano-SIM:


The Gear S2 3G has an eSIM for 3G. No phone required.

Many Chinese Android watches have offered direct cell connectivity for a couple of years now, as does the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Ed LTE ( Android Wear ).

Got a model reference? I'm curious


Was pretty cool to be able to leave your phone at home and still have full 3g coverage, especially when out running/cycling/surfing. Opera mini browser was sufficient for looking things up on the go.

Like others have mentioned, Tizen is a hot mess though. In the end the lack of a spotify app was the main pain point for me. Apple will do well to fill that gap.

I love my S2, but I have a hard time seeing why I should pay the cell phone company $120/yr to connect my watch. I don't go without my phone and I don't think this would change that.

For people who want to run and listen to Spotify this may be great.

But that stupid cell company fee will keep me away. Just like it keeps me off cellular iPads.

If this happens, it seems likely that Apple would work out a special plan or add-on with the carriers just for this.

Yep, a single exclusive provider. Because that tends to be the norm with tech companies who have to deal with cell companies.

On the iPad they have the ability to create virtual SIM's and you can select from a list of providers, including one-time payments to activate an account for X amount of data.

Apple could move to something like Google's Fi easily with the virtual sim capabilities...

I know Amazon originally used only Sprint for the Kindle cellular connectivity; has that changed?

I think they're still on Sprint, but I'm only ~70% on that.

Like the years of ATT exclusivity?

Apple doesn't need AT&T anymore - the original exclusivity was because Apple didn't want any carrier interference (as carriers love to add their logos to handsets, install crapware into the firmware, lock-down settings and features, etc) - none of the carriers would agree except for AT&T, who demanded an exclusivity period to compensate for the risk of loss-of-revenue from evil things like only allowing photographs to be sent by MMS.

Some cellular companies allow you to get multiple SIMs, specifically for this purpose.

Maybe it isn't an option in your area, but a lot of people do have the option.

I've never heard of that, but I'm in the US with Verizon and fully trust they'll either want $10/mo (because it's a device) or $20/mo (if it can make phone calls).

Because they're nice like that.

Well Verizon is a special kind of "evil" from what i can tell.

In most places that's not as balkanized as the US carrier market, you basically get multiple SIMs for your plan and that's it. Nobody gets to question what kind of device you put those SIMs into.

From what I've read I've always got the impression that cell networks are one of the things the US is furthest behind in. Even when we are more or less technologically up-to-date, the customer experience part is still terrible.

In Poland you can get a "sub" simcard that will use your cell/data plan from the main one, for just 10 pln/month (sometime ago it was 5 pln/month probably some of the carriers can have it even cheaper) ~ 2.8 $/month.

It is used mostly for tablets here(main simcard is in the phone) or a mifi for car.

See I'd happily pay three dollars a month to get my iPad on the network. That seems like a reasonable fee.

I don't expect to use my iPad (or anything else) away from Wi-Fi all that much, so that may be part of the issue. If I thought I'd use it more $10 may seem more reasonable. Like if I traveled a lot.

Verizon has an exclusive Android wear watch that has cellular connectivity and it is (only?) $5 extra/mo.

Google's project Fi is great about letting you get extra data only sim cards for free.

What if it could pair with air pods and function as a proper phone?

It might function as a proper phone, but it can't function as a proper smartphone, because you need a real screen for that.

At that point may as well have the cellular and processing function in the AirPods themselves.

sure i won't get the display but i get speech to text, text to speech, calls, messages, calendar, activity tracker and all the other stuff that one can install on apple watch.

are you saying that everybody who has smartphone needs 100% of what makes it a smartphone?

What you're implying is that blind people can't properly use a smartphone, which I believe is false.

I'm not sure what the grandparent was implying, but there's definitely a major benefit for larger screen sizes, even for those that are completely blind. iOS voiceover and other accessibility UI affordances are much more difficult to implement on the watch form factor, where a very small amount of content can be 'active' at a time.

There are some interesting startups targeting the possibilities here, but right now, smart watches provide a less capable experience for everyone right now.

What do you mean what if? This is something you can already do for calling + streaming music direct from the watch.

Also when you can listen to music or podcasts from the watch, they have to be preloaded. If there is an episode that you didn't download and put on the watch or you want to listen to a streaming music service… you're stuck unless the phone is there.

you can't call without carrying iphone with you

How would you properly dial?

It's 2017. Nobody dials. You say the person's name.

Anyway, the Apple Watch has a perfectly usable 10-key entry screen; that's what is used to unlock the Watch. Have you actually seen an Apple Watch?

it's 2017 nobody calls, voice dial is 2001.

that said my 5.2" phone doesn't have a perfectly usable tenkey, forgive me if I'm skeptical of a watch screen.

I use the pin pad to unlock my watch when I don't have my phone nearby, it works fine. I'm not going to say it's a great experience, but it's OK.

I agree I'd be more likely to use Siri or the Contacts app on the watch.

Don't they support speech to text? Unfamiliar never really played too much with one, but selecting from contacts isn't wasn't difficult. Rotary dial?

Rotary dial.

... I'm not sure yet whether that was a joke or not.

On Ting, each device is $6/mo.

Nice to see a Ting mention, parent company is TuCows, a Canadian ISP. Check em out if you've never heard of them, I really like their pricing model if you don't need much data or rural coverage areas

That's a weird memory from the 90s/early-00s, I remember downloading software from their FTP and I've no connection with Canada (this would be in the UK). Linux images etc, iirc?

I switched to Ting for a couple months. Not sure if the pricing is still the same, but I still talk with people on the phone, and paying by-the-minute felt restrictive. First month my bill was <$40 -- that was great. Next month it was $80 because I'd had some long phone calls. I've been much happier with a $40/month prepaid Verizon plan. Unlimited calling and 3gb of data, and then I don't have to think about the cost of making or accepting a call.

But that stupid cell company fee will keep me away. Just like it keeps me off cellular iPads

This entirely depends on your carrier. I have a single account for both iPhone and iPad wth 10Gb/mo to "spend" between them however I see fit. I'm with EE.

I'm in the US. I have a pool of data too, but there is a monthly charge for every device I add to the pool.

If adding a device to the pool also came with a little bit of extra data that might make it work out, but that's not the way it works.

Essentially I'm penalized for trying to use their services more. Instead of a nominal fee and making their money from selling more data, I have to pay a bigger fee just for the possibility of using the small pool I already have.

Not having to deal with tethering is not worth $10 a month to me.

No one will be paying that for cellular connectivity. It's all about the shared data pools now. I pay $10/mo. for my iPad Pro cellular. I'm on T-Mobile, but when I was on Verizon, it was only $15/mo.

I have a friend with a cellular Samsung watch. He pays an additional $5/mo.

$10/mo is $120/yr to get access to the shared pool. That's the exact plan available for my iPad.

And for extra cheapskate-ness you don't event get one extra GB when you do that. Pay more for less.

I didn't know watches were less. I can't find anything on Verizon's site (from a quick glance) that mentions them, only that "tablets and hotspots" are $10/mo.

Even at $60 I don't think I'd do it. I might for my iPad, but not my watch.

And what's the initial plan cost to get that shared data pool?

I pay $30/5GB (then throttled unlimited), so if I have to switch to a $50/month plan for a shared pool and add another $10 for a second device, then we're up to $360/year.

I'm assuming the plan is a sunk cost because I already have the necessary one for my cellphone.

The only question for the watch (or any other device) is the additional fee for that and any extra data I might end up needing.

I think the fact that it cost $20 to put my phone on the network (not including any data costs) is already stupid. But it's too late there.

If memory serves, he is on Sprint. Which I would never consider, frankly. I imagine once a cellular-capable Apple Watch is available, we will see those plans pop up everywhere.

Also, sorry, I didn't notice you were talking about the annual price.

It's fine, don't worry about it.

I hope the plans would spread. I really wanted a cellular capable iPad but couldn't stomach the extra cost + monthly fee + extra data usage.

I've heard iPads with. Ugly in cell arenamazing since you can use them any time and it's so much easier than tethering.

But I won't know.

I have google project fi cellular service, extra sim card for my 2nd device with no extra charge

I'm hoping that in 10-15 years, existing smartphones with giant screens will seem like a thing of the past, and that we'd have tiny devices that look "dumb" for a third person from 2017, but are much smarter and have AR capabilities just like we've seen in Sci-Fi movies and video games for a long time.

We don't need large screens to consume more content - we need content to look larger and more content to be seen in our eyes. I see wearables (watches, combined with earphones, and eyewear of some kind) becoming independent of a smartphone as one step forward in this evolution.

All this is possible now, the big thing holding back this sort of approach, and many other tech advances is batteries. Once we can get batteries with 10x current energy density, the game really will change. Smart Eyewear becomes actually feasible, as do many other form factors. I'm interested in this potential Apple device, but given the current model only really lasts a day, I'm not not sure how they plan to integrate radios and maintain that, and the form factor.

In my observation, promises of battery energy density exploding way beyond current designs still seem a long way away for mass produced gadgets. The "attack", if you will, has to be from both sides - higher energy density of batteries (allowing them to be smaller), as well as lower energy consumption by the gadgets. The latter gets easier when you don't have to power a large screen and (comparatively) large speakers. I have a stronger belief in the latter than in the former for the next two decades.

Another possibility for low energy devices is to have them use energy from outside the physical batteries in them. They could be light powered and use ambient light (for powering the gadget and recharging batteries), kind of like "solar powered" calculators that we've had for decades (that could be used for hours and still work with very less ambient light). The batteries would then act more like stand-in backups when ambient light isn't enough. This would require great gains in low energy processing (so I'm not comparing a calculator with a smartphone here). But I'm guessing this will also be an approach that'd be tried while we're on the way to getting significantly higher battery energy densities.

Whoever gets to do eyewear with AR without it looking dorky and without it being bulky will be the pioneer in making it widespread. These cannot be like how the Apple Watch is today, requiring an almost daily recharge when the device is no longer worn. The bigger challenge for Apple, as the devices become more feature rich, would be to continue keeping as much computation as possible on-device for enhancing privacy (and using differential privacy wherever apt), instead of offloading it to the cloud like its competitors look at things.

How long does a charge for a Google Glass last? I think energy density is a factor but I think getting it to fit into the shape of a normal-ish glasses frame is the bigger challenge, along with the camera tech and the tech to project onto a lens in a discrete manner.

And batteries are definitely one of Apple's strengths. I always thought that may have been what was drawing them to a potential electric car project.

In the book Change Agent by Daniel Suarez, the society of near-future was widely using projectors that beamed images directly into your eyes in lieu of physical screens. The concept has potential issues (some explored by the book, too), but I found it a very interesting idea.

Maybe like what's portrayed in the movie her minus the true AI.

A semi intelligent seeming voice interface that handles most and then a secondary backup display only for purely visual things.

This is all great.

In the short term, the sticking point is the cell contract.

If there is a reasonable add-on price to your existing phone rate, this is going to catch on. The more reasonable the rate, the quicker it will catch on.

Longer-term, the standalone service contract (Watch-only, no phone) will become more significant. People don't have an intrinsic urge to carry a rectilinear slab in their pocket... they have an intrinsic urge to communicate with each other. As a watch form-factor becomes more convenient, they will happily switch, in droves.

I would love to drop the smart phone from every hour of my waking life but limited text input capabilities would be a major sticking point for me.

The voice dictation works well. It uses an internet connection, but i suppose you often need that anyway when you're inputting text.

The finger handwriting works reasonably well too. It's slow though, at least for me, so better for short messages.

What would be even better is if cellular plans just covered the actual data at a set rate and let you connect as many devices as you want. At the end of the day that 'should' be all they care about.

There are plenty of instances where I might want directions while I'm on a run, but there is no way I'm paying $10 a month to add the device to my plan. Hopefully it is just shared data with my phone plan. We'll see what the carriers do, but I think it will make or break it for a lot of people.

$10/month to no longer need my phone for map my run and Spotify? That's worth $120/yr to me

I'm embarrassed to admit how much I'd actually pay for this, but suffice it to say I'd consider $120/year a bargain.

You don't need that if you preload the music and just use the series 2 gps.

I honestly dont know if I have any music on my computer. I use Spotify for probably ~10 hours/day. (Work, Gym, Commute)

I would even think about that kind of offers.. I actually don't care about youtube, but GPS and music .. reflects

If it ends up compatible with project fi, their extra data-only device comes free (at $10/GB like the rest of the plan). Might make this the first smart watch I've found appealing.

The problem with that is that it would have to be completely decoupled from your phone since Project Fi only supports the Pixel and Apple Watch only supports iOS.

If you don't want the watch to interact with your phone at all, then you would be fine. But you'd presumably be losing quite a bit of functionality by doing so.

Project Fi works fine with Apple iOS Devices. You need a Pixel/Nexus device to activate.

I've got several Apple devices on extra Project Fi SIM cards (including an iPhone). All work fine. I've also tested on the primary SIM succesfully.

Irony is that while Fi is the only plan where this makes sense, it's also the only plan you can't use with an iPhone.

Then again if you're using enough data to matter, you're better off paying the upfront cost for a plan that isn't $10/GB.

Oh how quickly we forget in the tech community. An internet-focused phone was laughable with the data plans of 2006.

Exactly. £10 per month (no contract) was probably the average spend then (for approx. 40mins calling and 300 SMS). Now I'm paying £60 per month for 2 years and it seems normal. An extra £10 per month to use your plan with up to 3 devices will be the norm in another couple of years.

It made TONS of sense to me.

The problem is that gave me something I wanted: the internet everywhere.

This gives me something I've been living without and don't want to pay that much for then privilege of: my smart watch working when I don't have my phone.

Maybe if Apple wins their fight with Qualcomm we'll start seeing cellular connectivity in more of their products. I personally have no interest in a cellular-capable Apple Watch, but I would be very interested in a cellular-capable MacBook.

It's amazing how hard it is to find a workable cellular SoC. Wifi? ESP8266s are $2-4 a pop and the Pi Zero W is $10 if you can actually find one. Bluetooth? An NRF51822 will only set you back $3-5, and it has a nice and simple Cortex-M0+ for the logic. And the ESP32 has wifi and bluetooth on the same module. GSM? It's being phased out worldwide so modules are being offloaded very cheaply, if your project doesn't need to be connected for long into the future.

But 3G/LTE? It's easier to find an HDMI receiver that'll process HDCP. Nevermind something hand-solderable...

They had a 3G macbook prototype years ago, never went with it.

The integrated 3G & GPS in my ThinkPad is very convenient.

I imagine the all metal cases make it quite difficult (ignoring all other factors).

If you take a look at the prototype, it had a slide-out antenna on the side of the lid.

They could have done what they did with the iPhone (And what HTC did first on the M7), injected plastic isolating part of the casing as an antenna but that would have been aesthetically odd.

A black shinny ceramic casing would solve it.

And would make me more likely to buy one.

The silver is too sterile.

I bet we'll hear about finger based sound conductance too.

Connecting the dots, if Airpods are successful in adoption, this could answer the awkward "You'd look silly holding a watch up to your ear" argument, same with "It's inconvenient to plug a 3.5mm plug into a watch". Maybe this is one motivating factor in Apple's decision to remove it the 3.5mm port from the iPhone?

Battery life. That's going to be the limitation.

An Apple Watch as a kind of iPhone Lite, not supplementing your phone but actually replacing it, could be an attractive option for a lot of people. Most of my extended family members don't use any apps, don't use their phones for e-mail. They do use the camera though, so that alone might be enough to keep them from switching.

A camera in the Apple Watch seems like low hanging fruit. I wouldn't be suprised if the next iteration has one.

This is a disappointing development, because it means they are moving in the wrong direction on the biggest weakness of the Apple Watch: the watch is embarrassingly thick and heavy for an Apple product.

This is exactly what I want.

Calls, Messages, Email, and Siri with voice to command short replies.

Map directions, Apple Pay, and Car2Go and I'd be set.

I'd rather have the glucose monitoring

They should put the battery in the watch band.

(Or do something else to make the watchband more useful. Antennas maybe?)

An antenna would not surprise me. There already seems to be a small contact patch on the bands that makes them snap into place.

This is the only way I would buy one

Cool. I'll be able to replace my laptop and cell phone with an iPad and a watch!

Probably free data as long as you have an Apple Music sub, or something like that.

Could the Apple Watch use WiFi provided by a phone's personal hotspot?

You mean the same phone, or a different phone?

The Apple Watch already can and does use WiFi and will connect to existing configured access points:


Presumably if you tethered your personal phone to a second phone, then the apple watch could and would also connect directly to that second phone's WiFi hotspot without your personal phone present.

Then finally a smartwatch will make sense!

Thus making carriers even stronger.

The only company that has a greater advantage at this game is Amazon's Echo. Echo is like a smartphone without a screen. It is the future of smart phones. And because it has a headstart on the voice game, an Echo watch would probably be the next best thing.

An Apple Watch with a small screen is a misfire and a watch that works standalone is somewhat missing the point. Watches were supposed to be remote control devices for our phones. Nothing else. This move feels like a cheap limited feature phone, not the future.

Edit: Maybe I am missing the point. Imagine a standalone watch that broadcasts wifi signal. Now imagine a thin ipod touch on the other hand piggybacking on the watch. That would be like reimagining the future.

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