LTE-Enabled Apple Watch Could Shift the Trajectory for Smart Watches


According to Bloomberg, Apple is expected to launch a long-term evolution (LTE)-connected version of the Apple Watch this Fall. If this is true, it comes much earlier than expected. Tractica’s own research estimated the first connected Apple Watch would appear sometime in 2018 or 2019. Most chip suppliers with whom we have spoken mentioned the difficulties that Samsung and LG faced in engineering a cellular modem into their own smart watches, not to mention the bulky designs and the impact on battery life. Apple continues to sell Apple Watches, and Tractica estimates that it has sold more than 20 million watches and accrued more than $10 billion in revenue since the launch in 2015. Apple is on track to become the leading watch maker in the world. Although many analysts, including myself, have been disappointed with Apple Watch sales, Apple is clearly bullish about the future of the Apple Watch and sees it as a key part of its product portfolio going forward. In its latest earnings call, Apple said that Apple Watch sales had increased more than 50% compared to last year, which is a healthy sign.

Compelling Reasons for Choosing Apple’s LTE-Connected Watch

Expect Apple to come up with some interesting use cases for the LTE-enabled Apple Watch. Apple has a history of taking its time, perfecting any issues before launching products. Where Samsung and LG have largely failed with their connected watches, Apple is likely to improve and provide compelling reasons for choosing its LTE-connected watch.

  • Apple’s focus on health and wellness will be a key part of the connected watch feature set, allowing users to leave their phones at home while going for a run or to the gym, and using the built-in global positioning system (GPS) and LTE connectivity to stream music, keep tabs on messages and calls, and enable myriad other cloud-based fitness services.
  • Apple AirPods can become ideal Apple Watch companions, allowing users to take calls on the go, and enabling Siri voice features without relying on the iPhone.
  • Going for a night out will be much easier and more convenient with a LTE-connected watch, as you can leave the iPhone at home and use the Apple Watch to take calls, messages, and even make Apple Watch payments.
  • A connected Apple Watch is a great gift for elderly parents, enabling the tracking of their health, location, and possibly fall detection. It will also be convenient as a communication device on the wrist, with Siri built in.
  • A connected Apple Watch for kids with kid tracking and calling features could be another path for Apple to explore. The Chinese market for connected kids’ watches is exploding, with estimates suggesting tens of millions of watches having sold in 2016 alone.

One can laugh off some of the above features, calling them unnecessary and arguing that none of us would leave home without our mobile phones these days. But, if you think of the long-term evolution of devices and connectivity, the wrist watch is an ideal candidate for a largely unobtrusive computing and communication device that keeps track of your health, is connected, and is context-aware, only waking up at opportune and appropriate moments. Mobile devices are likely to change and transform as other devices like watches and glasses take on additional computing and connectivity features. Wearables are part of this longer-term evolution of computing and the interaction with humans, and we are only beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the use cases and efficiencies that they enable. Of course, this journey is riddled with experimentation and failures, and companies that simply jump on the bandwagon without focusing on the product itself will lose out. Jawbone’s recent demise, Intel shutting down its wearables unit, and the woes of Android Wear, along with numerous other smart watch platforms that have failed to attract consumer interest, are proof of this troubled phase of experimentation.

Building Momentum and the Inevitability of Connected Watches

Whether it is Apple’s brand power, its loyal fan base, or its focus on design and usability, the Apple Watch continues to build momentum. The connected Apple Watch is another step in the direction of liberating computing from the two-dimensional (2D) glass screen that we all simultaneously love and loathe. The fact that Apple has taken its first step in the connected watch evolution is a significant one and could change the trajectory of smart watches and the growth of wearables overall. In 10 or 20 years, we will look back and wonder why our watches were anything other than connected.

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