Sometime in early September, I was in a mall in Lisbon and my iPhone was dying. I decided to call an Uber back to the hotel (I don’t speak the language and didn’t feel comfortable without my phone). It was a little far away, and I anxiously watched the battery drain. Luckily, I managed to get in the car right as my phone died.
The incident stuck with me. Our phones are so important, especially while away in a foreign country. Over the following few days, I mulled over the idea of an updated Apple Watch with LTE support. I wrote a full blog post and was getting ready to publish it, but one thing led to another and I never ended up doing so.
In the time since: Apple both announced and released the Series 3 Watch with LTE support, and I’ve been wearing one every day since. About three weeks in, I thought it’d be fun to check-in and see how it compares to what I hoped for.
First and foremost, there’s one thing I need to get out of the way: The Apple Watch with LTE doesn’t roam. It’s locked to the country where you bought it. There are hacks to get it to work, but I use a cellular Project Fi SIM when traveling internationally so this would have been a nonstarter. In the case that I described above, the LTE on my Watch would have been no additional help. However, there are plenty of times in Boston when my phone dies while I’m out and about, so this is still worth exploring1.
It’s very rare that I’m out of the house without wearing headphones. In the event that my phone dies, I would like to be able to continue listening to music and podcasts. watchOS 4.0 smartly syncs a subset of playlists to the Watch overnight, and watchOS 4.1 (currently in beta) brings full Apple Music support to the device. Switching AirPods input from iPhone to Watch is seamless, too. Unfortunately, podcasts are a big miss on the Watch (and it doesn’t look likely that third-party apps are going to be able to plug that hole anytime soon).
In my opinion, the Maps app is one of the most underrated features of the Apple Watch. It does a good job of surfacing potential destinations, handles navigation well (with the aid of haptics), and has fantastic public transport overviews. Alas, if my phone dies while I’m out in Boston, I’m confident that I can find my way home without needing Maps; but I’m almost excited to get lost in another state!
In Boston, what I’m likely to do if my phone dies is check where the bus is. The MBTA runs notoriously behind schedule so I like checking where my transfer is before deciding whether I should get off the bus or stick it out a little more and walk the rest of the way. The Transit app on Apple Watch best surfaces this information, but unfortunately it doesn’t yet have LTE support2. In the meantime, I’ve been using Citymapper for this. Their Watch app does a lot more than Transit’s so it takes a couple of extra taps to find what I want, but it gets the job done.
Alternately, if my phone’s dead, I’m likely to call a Lyft home — especially if it’s later in the day. While I read that Lyft and Uber have been updated with LTE support, I can’t seem to get either app to launch (with or without a connection to my iPhone). I contacted Lyft support and, after some troubleshooting, they informed me that it’s a known issue. Hopefully it gets resolved soon because this is something I’d really like to try out.3 (UPDATE: The app got updated, and I tried it out.)
Lastly, while I probably won’t need to translate anything on my Watch anytime soon (because it doesn’t roam), I was disappointed to find out that Siri on the Watch can’t handle translations. Siri on iOS 11 gained the ability to translate to a few select languages, but asking Siri on watchOS 4 the same query tells me to ‘Continue on iPhone.’ Fortunately, iTranslate has a fantastic watchOS app that supports many more languages than Siri, and works over LTE.
Putting it all together, it’s remarkable to me how much the Watch can do independent of iPhone already. In an emergency, I could contact a friend or family, find my way home, and continue listening to music. This is, of course, in addition to what the Watch could already do: Store boarding passes and more in Wallet, and pay for things with Apple Pay4.
I look forward to being able to stream Apple Music in the near future. With 3rd-party apps (slowly) being updated to make them independent, it’s a good time to buy an Apple Watch. Hopefully a Podcasts app isn’t far behind, though I fear Apple might push that back until watchOS 5 at the earliest.
It actually happens surprisingly often. iOS 11 has been a nightmare for my battery life. ↩
I’ve contacted the developers and it’s something that they’re working on. ↩
I remember trying to use the Uber app on Apple Watch back when it first came out, and it didn’t work because I only have Apple Pay tied to my account (no Credit Card). The Uber extension in Maps still doesn’t work for me for that reason, but Lyft does, so I’m curious to see if it works on the Watch too. ↩
I know Apple Pay is almost universally accepted in developed countries outside the United States, but it’s starting to feel that way here in Boston/Cambridge too. Most ATMs, vending machines, liquor and grocery stores, etc. in the area have started accepting it (often without even realizing that they do). ↩