This thing on my wrist needs its own LTE connection.
Sometimes I open links on the screen in my pocket, sometimes I reply to messages from the aluminum brick on my desk, sometimes I FaceTime with the large slate of glass on my coffee table, and sometimes I answer calls directly from my wrist. In all cases though, I am wearing a watch on my wrist and am carrying a large hotspot (my phone) in my pocket. By combining the hotspot with the watch, I can choose to carry a slate of glass in my pocket or not, but it’s not required. All devices in my world then become equal vectors for communication, with my watch as the intelligent switchboard. It does not care how or where I respond to a message, it simply alerts me about incoming messages.
Luckily, Apple has perfectly positioned itself to make this vision a reality with its hardware and software.
WatchOS 2, which releases in a few months, adds native apps to the Watch and enables them to access the wifi network directly, meaning the Watch will already be independent of the iPhone when on wifi soon. It will only require tethering to the iPhone for a cellular connection. Of course, adding a SIM card to a watch is ridiculous…
The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 include the Apple SIM card, a built-in SIM card the replaces the need for carrier-specific cards. Instead, all carrier selection is done via software. This is crucial for an eventual Apple Watch that includes cellular functionality because a removeable SIM card in a watch is not feasible. However, a software-only SIM card means we can choose a carrier when we power up our new Watch and break our shackle to the tethered iPhone.
Continuity means my phone calls and SMS messages are no longer tied to my cell phone. All my devices receive my calls and texts, so I don’t care which device I’m using. With iOS 9, my phone doesn’t even have to be nearby for phone calls to be shared across devices.
Technically a sub-feature of Continuity, Handoff enables the Watch to act as a switchboard. Everything can come through the Watch, but any of my devices can seamlessly pick up the task, meaning I can jump from device to device without any thought.
As Apple continues to subvert the local filesystem and move everything into its iCloud containers, all of my devices gain consistent access to my data, so that once again, I never have to worry about which device I’m picking up, other than that it has the best input interface for my current task. All my music, photos, documents, passwords, browser tabs, contacts, notes, mail, etc are all available everywhere, completely agnostic of device, with no action on my part.
Apple’s cash cow is the iPhone, but they have never been afraid to disrupt their own products with something new before somebody else does, and that’s what they’re positioning the Watch to do. It will shift from being an accessory to being the center of the ecosystem, relegating the iPhone into being just another device with a processor and a screen (maybe it’ll even eventually be rebranded to the iPad Nano).
Given that almost all of the pieces are already in place for this transition to occur, the biggest barrier for Apple is achieving a critical mass of users, such that asking users to pay another monthly fee for another cellular device won’t be laughed at. With that in mind, I believe that we’ll see a cellular Apple Watch that replaces the iPhone as the center of our lives within the next 2-3 product generations.