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Apple said to be sticking an LTE modem in its Watch – meh

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It has been reported that Apple is partnering with Intel to give the Apple Watch independent 4G connectivity, but that will just make it more expensive and no less pointless.

Bloomberg is the source of the goss, noting that the LTE-enabled version is expected to be launched later this year and that it’s not much of a surprise to see Apple turn to Intel for the modem since it’s in the middle of a litigation-fest with its regular modem supplier, Qualcomm. Maybe the prospect of securing Apple’s business encouraged Intel to join the party a couple of weeks ago.

Plenty of other smart watch makers have already gone down the embedded connectivity route but there is little evidence this has captured the imagination of the market. The whole category has struggled to demonstrate its desirability and utility beyond being an early-adopter status symbol after the initial hype and Apple is certainly no exception.

The only reason to give a smart watch its own modem is to remove the need for a Bluetooth umbilicus to a nearby smartphone – in other words replacing it. But little of any use can be achieved on a square inch of screen real estate and no reasonable person expects people do conduct phone conversations via their wrist.

The whole industry has been distracted from the by the prospect of smart watches being the next big device category after smartphones and tablets but that was never really likely. Since the phone mobile device revolution has been driven by the touchscreen UI, why would anyone think such a tiny screen could continue that trend?

The only way smart watches can become viable standalone devices, and thus justify the extra $100 Apple is likely to charge for a modem that will cost it about 2 cents to buy from Intel, is if they offer an alternative UI to the touchscreen. This should ideally take the form of a gesture-based system, using accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc in a clever way to allow users to control the device by waving their arms about.

Until then the only real use for an autonomous smartwatch is for runners, as TechCrunch concurs. This is fine but serves to illustrate the main reason the smart watch category has failed to take off: they are essentially accessories, with consumer price expectations to match. Once you get into triple figures you’re out of impulse-purchase territory and people will have a proper think about value – usually concluding there’s not much to be found in the smart watch. Charging an extra $100 or so will only cement that impression with little useful trade-off.

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