It’s time for Apple’s wearable to go it alone

Imagine if every iPad or Apple TV required an iPhone to function. Instead of those devices existing in standalone fashion, you’d use an app on your iPhone to set them up, install apps, and define settings. That probably sounds ludicrous, but that’s the position we’re still in with Apple Watch.

When Apple’s wearable first arrived, this was reasonable. The Apple Watch was ambitious, but the technology and infrastructure wasn’t there to allow the device to exist alone – at least if offering the kind of functionality Apple wanted to bring to it.

Things shifted in a big way with Apple Watch Series 4, which introduced built-in cellular connectivity. Previous generations of Apple Watch could perform basic tasks when away from an iPhone, such as tracking your route when exercising. But with Apple Watch Series 4, you could pretend you were Buck Rogers, speaking to your wrist, and sending messages.

In watchOS 6, we see another big step toward Apple Watch finally becoming independent: the App Store. Apple is pitching this as a great way to discover new apps, and thereby power up your wearable’s capabilities. But the wider point is that you’ll no longer need an iPhone to do so. Instead of using the Watch app, prodding an install link, waiting for a new app to make it across to your Apple Watch, and being left with a companion app on your iPhone that you may not want or need, everything can happen right on your wrist.

Apple of course on iOS also distributes many of its own apps this way. And if you delete a stock app on your iPhone, it can be reinstalled via the App Store. With similar thinking on watchOS, and with cellular capabilities, how long before Apple Watch no longer needs tethering to another Apple device at all?

Delve into the watchOS 6 public beta, and you discover this could happen sooner than you might think. Along with the App Store, there’s a new Software Update section in Settings. Just like your iPhone can update its software without being tethered to a Mac or PC, the Apple Watch will now be able to update without an iPhone. It might not yet have made the leap to move away from home, but it’s pretty clear Apple Watch is packing its bags – and not before time.