Will the ability to make phone calls with the next Apple Watch be enough to boost its sales? The tech world is divided, with many saying this will be the move to notch the Apple Watch above the rest, even as others decry the upgrade — and the wearables category as a whole — as superfluous and doomed.
If you look at the numbers, the Apple Watch is actually doing pretty well, for a wearable. But that’s like saying a certain brand of meal replacement shake tastes better than the rest. Everyone knows that a meal replacement shake just doesn’t taste as good as actual food, and you can get all the same functionality from a delicious plate of steak and potatoes — or, in Apple’s case, the flagship iPhone — so why bother? Except in a very specific use case, neither an Apple Watch nor a meal replacement shake can replace the bigger, better version.
Yet, in the case of the Apple Watch, people are biting. The product saw a 50 percent increase in year-over-year sales, Apple CEO Tim Cook reported on the Q3 investor call. TechCrunch quoted one analyst who estimated Apple must have sold two to three million Watches to make such a leap.
The device’s compatibility with Apple’s new AirPod wireless earbuds likely helped, as did the staggered release dates of the first and second generations of the Apple Watch — a September 2016 version was more current in this year’s Q3 than an April 2015 Watch was during the same period last year, according to TechCrunch.
The Apple Watch outsold Fitbit and Xiaomi in the first quarter, and Engadget predicts it could do so again once the Series 3 is released with its beefed-up health tracking capabilities. Fitness-focused Xiaomi is currently the reigning champion in the wearables category as the Fitbit falls further out of vogue.
Here’s the good and the bad about the forthcoming Apple Watch.
The new Apple Watch will have built-in LTE connectivity, which means it won’t depend on the proximity of an iPhone to do its job. Users will be able to connect to the internet using just the Watch.
This is what consumers wanted all along, says Business Insider: a wearable replacement for their smartphones, not just an additional device that connects to — but still requires them to carry — said phones. Making the Watch its own thing, rather than a redundant, albeit luxurious, linked device could entice existing Watch-wearers to upgrade and also lure new customers to the product.
LTE connectivity could be attractive to developers, too, who have so far shunned building apps for the Watch because there just wasn’t any money in it.
So, the new Apple Watch can connect to the internet by itself — so what? How often do smartphone users leave their handsets behind? Investor’s Business Daily thinks Apple has overestimated the need for an untethered wearable, with the publication’s analysts calling the addition of LTE “pointless.”
Pointless or not discussion aside, the analysts make a few good observations about the potential downsides of including an LTE modem in the device. Short battery life is already a problem for the Apple Watch, and LTE is only going to drain it faster.
Plus, it’s going to force consumers to add another device to their data plans — so they’re not just paying for a luxury wearable, but also to keep that wearable in working order, lest it become a shiny, wrist-adorning brick.
"What Apple should really be working on is a use case or function for this product that makes it a must-have, causing everyone to rush out and buy it," said analyst Richard Windsor of Edison Investment Research.
The additional health and fitness capabilities Apple claims to be developing — including a heart function, body fat, blood pressure and emotional state reader — are a much wiser investment, according to Windsor.
It’s not just for surfing the web — the new Apple Watch will be able to make phone calls, send messages, stream music and show directions on a map, reports the New York Post. There are even rumors that it will be able to connect to gym equipment, display news stories and send payments.
The Post noted the Apple Watch has historically suffered in reviews due to its iPhone dependence, so cutting that cord is a natural and necessary next step in the product’s development arc.
The next iteration of the Apple Watch is going to be “evolutionary, not revolutionary,” according to ZD Net. While it may be able to do more without the iPhone, the two can never be completely untethered, if for no other reason than the Watch’s lack of a camera. Additionally, consumers will still turn to their larger smartphone screen for web browsing, writing emails or working on documents, ZD Net predicts.
That's because battery drain is going to be such an issue that Apple is going to have to make some compromises. It’s unlikely the revolutionary wearable pictured by fans will actually hit shelves in full, fantasized form. More likely, Apple will cherry-pick a few new features at a time to roll out while also balancing battery consumption.
In truth, ZD Net points out, Apple shouldn’t want the Watch to replace the iPhone. Because if it does, then who will buy the iPhone?