Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Why wireless carriers need to allow independent eSIM activation

The Apple Watch is like a mini iPod touch strapped to your wrist.

That was the analogy used by an Apple Store employee in a conversation I had with her last week.

Except an iPod touch doesn't require an iPhone to operate. In fact, an iPod touch has long been known as being like an iPhone without the phone part. It includes everything else such as the ability to use most apps an iPhone can use.

The Apple Watch with just standard GPS has required a phone to operate. It can also then provide a remote control interface to the phone part of the iPhone, along with its own variety of apps, watch faces, etc.

There's also an Apple Watch with LTE. Sprint has a very nice plan that allows for use of the Apple Watch with LTE that includes unlimited talk, text, and data, for $10/month (after $5 autopay discount). Pair that up with some AirPods, and my phone bill would drop yet again.

Last week I was seriously considering porting my number to an Apple Watch. Then I found out that's not allowed.

An iPhone is required to use the Apple Watch, both on the Apple side (for configuration) and on the carrier network side (for phone number forwarding, call connecting). Not only that, it must be an iPhone activated on the same carrier on which the Apple Watch would be activated. That would boost my phone bill from $15/month for unlimited talk/text with Ting to $45/month with Sprint. This porting idea would no longer save me money.

Ting apparently wants to be able to support Apple Watch, but their hands, as an MVNO, are tied. The carriers will not allow straight-up eSIM activation of an Apple Watch as a standalone device.

This leaves an LTE Apple Watch looking rather pointless. Consider two scenarios.

Scenario 1
• Activated and powered iPhone. • Standard Apple Watch GPS. • AirPods (for conversation privacy).
One can make and receive calls as long as one has all three of those things on hand, activated, powered on, and available.

Scenario 2
• Activated and powered iPhone. • Apple Watch LTE. • AirPods (same reason).
With this setup, one does not need to have the iPhone on hand, yet can still make and receive calls with the iPhone's phone number via the Apple Watch.

So let me get this straight: The wireless carriers are requiring me to have iPhone service separate from LTE Apple Watch service so I can have the privilege of not needing that very iPhone available with me to make phone calls?

That's messed up.

At best the benefit of an LTE Apple Watch is very limited. Even the person I talked to at the Sprint store said this was mostly a factor for when she was exercising: She wears her Apple Watch and leaves her iPhone home.

Here's what would be much better all around:

Scenario 3
• Apple Watch LTE. • AirPods.
With my phone number directly assigned to an Apple Watch, I could skip the iPhone plan altogether, and simply use AirPods for my few phone conversations now and then. With the going rates for Watch plans, this would save a lot of money. Even if the carriers charged more for independent eSIM activation, it could still be useful and likely provide savings.

What blurs the lines for this option is that Apple requires an iPhone for Apple Watch configuration. The iPhone's Watch app is basically a second settings app, but for the Watch. While this may be a bit confusing and over-granular for some, that should not be a reason to limit others. Why not let people use an inactive older iPhone to configure the Watch? I'd say the same for the iPad, too. I see no reason why the Apple iPad should be rendered incapable of managing an Apple Watch.

In June 9to5Mac asked if people thought the Apple Watch could replace an iPhone. For me, especially after activating an iPad for data, the answer is a resounding Yes.

The only question now: Which wireless carrier will figure this out first?

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