Tetherless Apple Watch set to launch for the lucky 32%

Apple has lined up its latest attempt to convince people there is value in smartwatches, but only if you are part of the lucky 32% who live in the right country, and have a contract with the right operator.

It is supposed to be the smartwatch feature we’ve been waiting for: built-in connectivity. It’ll cost you £400, but only if you’re an iLifer. The fact it has to be paired with an iPhone is less of a surprise, but only one which has a contract from an MNO which is partnered with Apple. Analyst firm Canalys estimate 68% of iPhones around the world will not have the right contract in place to make use of the smartphone sensation.

“The Apple Watch Series 3 is launching to a limited addressable market,” said Canalys Analyst Ben Stanton. “The total iPhone installed base currently sits at around 517 million. Of those, only 164 million are the right iPhones, with the right carrier, on the right tariff to work with the new cellular Apple Watch at launch.

“Apple’s potential buyers are spread across eligible and ineligible operators and contracts, and many will be disappointed. Apple needs to exert pressure on more carriers to make the required network investment before the buzz around its new product dies down.”

So who are the lucky few?

In the US, it’s all the big players AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, but the devices will not support UMTS on Sprint and Verizon contracts. Bell is the only one in Canada, but again, not for UTMS. And to complete the America’s (as in feature availability), AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are available in Puerto Rico. Again, Sprint does not support UTMS here.

In Europe, the watch will only work properly in three markets; France, Germany and the UK. In France it’s on Orange, Germany its Deutsche Telekom and in the UK its EE. But once again, there in a blank column for UTMS in the UK. Switzerland has been noted for later in the year, but it doesn’t look like there is anywhere else for the moment.

In Asia, Japan has three options; au, NTT Docomo and SoftBank, with only NTT Docomo offering coverage on UTMS. Australia has Optus and Telstra, with the promise of Vodafone later in the year. The final market in Asia is China, where only China Unicom is eligible, but only for mobile lines opened in Guangdong, Henan, Hunan, Shanghai, and Tianjin. Beijing is a notable omission.

China Mobile and China Telecom are two which will come online towards the end of the year, though no details have been given. According to Ovum’s WCIS, that is 80% of the postpaid market missing right now, with China Unicom moving the wrong way in the market share rankings.

It hasn’t been the greatest start possible for the iChief, which has already had the product criticized for connectivity issues, with the device holding onto weak wifi signal as opposed to transferring onto the stronger, and available, 4G. The iPrime has unauthenticated wifi, but of course it was never going to be a problem with the software.

If the task of convincing iFollowers to part with £400, for a product which few people seem to have value in, was going to be a tricky task, but it might have just got a bit more difficult. Perhaps this is the reason Canalys were the ones to point out the limited functionality rather than the iBoss itself…

Of course there will be more partners and countries announced over the next couple of months, but it does seem to be a bit of a d*ck move from Apple. We wonder how many people will buy one only to discover their contract provider doesn’t support the device, or a lack of 4G coverage in their area means limited functionality.

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