The very first #Trending, way back in December 2014, was titled No smartphone required. It celebrated the start of a tether-free smartwatch world; a world where our wrist-based mini computers could compute without needing to be constantly handcuffed to their motherships.
In the 18 months or so since we published that post, things have evolved… slowly.
However, that’s a good thing. Back in 2014 our features editor Sophie Charara said “no-one wants to pay for a second contract for their watch. If this is going to work, the networks need to give up their current schemes and agree to one phone number with multiple SIMs, charging an additional monthly fee for the privilege.”
There’s been big progress on that front with the arrival of programmable eSIMs and initiatives like ATT’s NumberSync, which allow for a secondary connected device to their primary number; meaning users can read and respond to text messages, make and answer phone calls, and even listen to voice messages – all on one data contract and with no fiddly SIM-swapping.
The big networks are all on board and there’s rumours that Apple will introduce tether-free functionality with the Apple Watch 2.
But it’s the big Android Wear 2.0 announcement at I/O 2016 that has really got us excited. People don’t want to ditch their smartphones entirely in favour of smartwatches – at least not yet. But they do want extra functionality from their wearables, without constantly having to fire up a companion app on their handset.
It’s this middle ground that will see smartwatches become more useful and integrated into users’ lives than ever before. So it’s not No smartphone required any longer, it’s Smartphone not always required.
Here’s who’s getting it right…
WEAR – Apple Watch
Yeah, you read that right. Despite the original Apple Watch being far from independent from the iPhone, it packs a hell of a lot of functionality sans-smartphone.
You can, for example, go for a run and have it track your stats (albeit not entirely accurately because of the lack of GPS) while listening to your digital music and pop in Starbucks after and pay for a latte using Apple Pay.
Revisiting the Apple Watch: Giving Cupertino a second chance
WatchOS 2.0 brought with it a bunch of native Apple Watch apps that work independently of your iPhone too and yes, while you’ll still need to be on a trusted Wi-Fi network to get any of them to function, the Apple Watch is still a pretty useful tool, independently, and on the fly.
NEARLY THERE – Android Wear 2.0
Android Wear is already a vastly improved beast from the one Google took the covers off of back in 2014. The last update to hit Wear watches, earlier this year, allows users to do quite a bit while not tethered to a phone but connected to a trusted Wi-Fi network.
And Android Wear 2.0 will only improve the offering. When it lands later this year, you won’t need your smartphone nearby to use apps on your wrist; your AW watch will be able to communicate through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular instead of depending on a tethered phone or cloud syncing.
Yep – cellular. Android Wear has already followed the lead of the Samsung Gear S2 with a 4G-enabled smartwatch by way of the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition. We spoke to Qualcomm’s Pankaj Kedia recently, who told us:
“LTE connectivity provides new use cases and provides the freedom and flexibility to leave your smartphone behind. It gives you another leg to stand on.”
He said that they were working with multiple customers on connected wearables and that it was a “key focus”. “It will have very tangible implications on the adoption of wearable devices,” he said.
SQUARE – i.am+ dial
Will.i.am has another smartphone-killer wearable on sale. We know, we know, we too wish he’d give it up already.
The i.am+ dial is available from from Three in the UK, starting at £24 per month with £49 upfront, or £25 monthly with a £19 payment. Yep, the dial requires you to take out a new contract. Or ditch your phone altogether. Exactly.
Will.i.am’s first smartwatch was described as “a wearable nightmare”. Let’s hope we all wake up soon.