Apple last week added a cellular modem to the Apple Watch Series 3, allowing iPhone owners to receive calls, notifications, alerts, messages, and more even if they're not in close proximity to their smartphone.
This gives people a new level of freedom, but what I find important about the move is that it brings with it a level of security. When Creative Strategies surveyed iPhone users who took their phone with them on their walks or runs, the No. 1 reason was to listen to music or podcasts, but the No. 2 reason was to have a way to communicate in case of an emergency.
This is an important step in the evolution of wearable technology. To date, most wearables have been application-specific (tracking steps, heart rate, etc.) or tethered to a smartphone. While Samsung did have 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 in Apple Watch, Apple takes its wearable game up a big notch. There's also a new dual-core CPU that is 70 percent faster than Series 2, and Apple wisely uses the screen itself for the radio's antenna so the device avoid excess bulk.
While the iPhone X was the big story from last week's Apple event, don't underestimate the impact of Apple Watch Series 3. In fact, I believe Apple will double its sales of Apple Watches in the next 18 months thanks to this new cellular feature.
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 carry my iPhone 7 Plus with me, as it is very important to be able to stay in touch with family and others. A cellular-based Series 3 Apple Watch will be freeing; no more bulky smartphone in my pocket.
Series 3 also gets an altimeter while watchOS 4 features a number of health-related app tweaks. But Apple is also working with Stanford to study how Apple Watch can help identify heart irregularities like arrhythmias. Kardia already has a third-party handheld device that does this, but having the functionality built into Apple Watch could save lives as untreated arrhythmias can lead to sudden cardiac death. The project is going on now and Stanford and Apple hope to have a dedicated app that works with the Series 3 by early next year.
In my case, watchOS 4 and Series 3 will also help me manage my diabetes much better. I use the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor that I attach to my stomach; using a special sensor and a wireless transmitter, I can get a blood sugar reading on my Apple Watch. 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 watchOS 4, Dexcom will allow the Watch to now talk directly to the wireless Bluetooth sensor I wear; even if I am not near my iPhone, my blood glucose reading on the watch will always be live.
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My eventual wish is that Apple finds a way to integrate that blood glucose sensor into the Watch itself. There are rumors that Apple is working on something like this, but even if it does perfect the technology, it needs FDA approvals that could take years. In the meantime, I am very grateful that shortly I will be able to get my blood sugar readings on Apple Watch Series 3.
The Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $325 for GPS-only; the cellular version is $399, which I find easy to justify given the significant new benefits it delivers.
My only hang-up is the carrier pricing; AT&T wants to charge $10 a month for the Watch eSIM connection even though it uses the same number. While I think that is a bit high, AT&T points out that it already does this when you add LTE to your iPad, which is also tied to your main phone number, so they treat the Apple Watch Series 3 the same way.