Apple is planning to release a version of its smartwatch later this year that can connect directly to cellular networks. This move is designed to reduce the device’s reliance on the iPhone.
Currently, Apple requires its smartwatch to be connected wirelessly to an iPhone to stream music, download directions in maps, and send messages while on the go. Equipped with LTE chips, at least some new Apple Watch models, planned for release by the end of the year, will be able to conduct many tasks without an iPhone in range. For example, a user would be able to download new songs and use apps and leave their smartphone at home.
Apple is already in talks with telecom services providers. The carriers supporting the LTE Apple Watch, at least at launch, may be a limited subset of those that carry the iPhone. The next generation Apple Watch could still be delayed beyond 2017, as the company had already postponed a cellular-capable smartwatch last year.
Sales of the smartwatch grew more than 50 percent in the third quarter of last year. In the larger wearables category, which includes cheaper fitness bands, Apple ranks third behind Xiaomi Corp. and Fitbit Inc., according to research firm Strategy Analytics. Apple does not break out sales numbers for the Watch like it does for iPhones, iPads, and Macs.
Making the Apple Watch more of a standalone device may boost sales of the product. It would be a game changer for the company. If Apple could deliver an experience that isn’t tethered to an iPhone, it could kick start a new direction for the business.
Last year, Apple took a step toward making the Apple Watch a more independent device by selling some new models with a GPS chip. This allows the device to accurately track distance traveled by wearers when they leave their iPhones behind on walks or runs. The company had planned to release an LTE-capable model last year, but chose to hold off due to battery life issues.
In addition to adding a cellular chip to the Apple Watch, the Cupertino, California-based company is planning software changes for the device. Watch OS 4 is coming in the fall with more Siri voice-enabled features, the ability to connect to gym equipment, send payments in iMessage and display news stories, Apple said in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference.