Apple Watch Series 3: Observations

Rumors have been swirling for some time that Apple was about to add a cellular modem to their popular Apple Watch line and indeed, at yesterday’s event, that is exactly what Apple did. By adding a modem, users will be untethered from their iPhone’s and able to make and receive calls, get notifications, alerts, messages and various types of data that would be of interest even if the iPhone is back at home or at the office. For those who want to go for a run or a long walk, the Apple Watch Series 3 with the LTE modem allows this watch to stand on its own and gives people a new level of freedom from their smartphones yet still be connected if needed.

For smart watches, this is a game changer and a most important step in the evolution of wearable technology. To date, all wearables were either application specific such as ones dedicated to just tracking steps, heart rate, etc. Or they were tethered to a smartphone and got most of their real intelligence from the phone itself. For the first two generations of Apple Watch, the iPhone played a central role in its capabilities.
While Samsung did have one model of a smartwatch with a modem in it, I could never get it to work well, and this model never caught on.

With the inclusion of an LTE modem, the Apple Watch, which is now the #1 smartwatch on the market regarding units and revenue, Apple takes their wearable up a big notch and makes it even smarter in its right. It has a new dual core CPU that is 70% faster than the last series and Apple delivers an ingenious way to use the screen itself for the radio’s antenna, making it one of the most innovative smart watches on the market bar none.

While the iPhone X was the big story from the launch event since it represented the 10th anniversary of the iPhone and delivers the most power we have ever had in a smartphone to date, don’t underestimate the impact Apple’s new Series Watch 3 will have on Apple’s overall eco system. In fact, I believe Apple will double the sales of Apple Watches thanks to this new cellular feature in the next 18 months.

Although most of us have been conditioned to never let our smartphones out of our sight, there are many times it is not proper or even convenient to have them with us. When I go for my long walk each weekend, I have had to carry my iPhone 7 Plus with me as it is very important to be able to stay in touch with family and others even though I may be on a 2 or 3-hour walk. For me and many others who will use a cellular based Series 3 Apple Watch, this will be a freeing experience and allow us much more flexibility when doing something where carrying an iPhone with us is not optimal.

Apple also added features such as an altimeter and many new tweaks to the health related apps but only briefly mentioned a new feature in the works that may make the Apple Watch the most important wearable tool anyone can use on a daily basis. This new feature will be in conjunction with Stanford and will use the core technology of the heart rate monitor to look for irregular heartbeat patterns that could give hints of AFIB.

Kardia already has a third party hand held device where you have to put your two thumbs on it to get what is an EKG to look for signs of AFIB. Apple making this a standard feature on the Series 3 in the future will allow the watch to look for these irregular heartbeat rhythms all of the time and give all users early warning signals should it detect any form of AFIB in the heart. This is a big deal. High blood pressure is often called the silent killer, but AFIB untreated can lead to sudden cardiac death and if that feature is in the Apple smartwatch if could save lives. The project with Stanford is going strong now, and they hope to have a dedicated app that works with the Series 3 by early next year.

In my case, the new Watch OS 4 and Watch Series 3 will also help me manage my diabetes much better. I use the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor that I attach to my stomach and by using a special sensor and a wireless transmitter I can get a blood sugar reading on my Apple Watch all of the time. However, the actual app resides on the iPhone, so when I am not near my iPhone, I don’t have that blood sugar reading on the watch. With Watch OS 4, Dexcom has worked with Apple to allow the Watch to now talk directly to the wireless Bluetooth sensor I wear and even if I am not near my iPhone, my blood glucose reading on the watch will always be live. My eventual wish is that Apple finds away to integrate that blood glucose sensor into the Watch itself and allows me to just use the Apple Watch to read my blood sugars all of the time. There are rumors that Apple is working on something like this but even if they do perfect the technology it needs FDA approvals, and that could take years. In the meantime, I am very grateful that shortly I will be able to get my blood sugar readings with or without an iPhone being anywhere near me.

The Apple Watch Series 3 base model cost $325 but the one with a Cellular modem is just $399, and it is easy to justify the added cost given the significant new benefits it delivers for the user.

My only hangup with this is the pricing the carriers want to put on this eSIM even though it uses your same phone number. In their current pricing model, you can get a new number and add that to your family or business data plan for $10. But ATT wants to charge $10 a month for the Watch eSIM connection even though it uses the same number. I think the carriers will get some stiff resistance to this pricing and would hope that they change it to something like $5.00 a month to be more reasonably priced given it uses the same phone number.

The Apple Watch Series 3 will is an important evolution to the Apple Watch platform, and both models should do very well in the coming year. As I stated earlier, it is with in reason that Apple doubles the Apple Watch sales by this time next year as more and more people discover the value of the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch OS 4.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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