The report — which features the investigative work of three separate Bloomberg reporters, something that’s rare for a tech rumor — cites “people familiar with the matter” as saying Apple is “planning to release a version of its smartwatch later this year that can connect directly to cellular networks.”
Intel will reportedly be supplying the chipset, and Apple has apparently been in talks with wireless carriers already about selling the device, and presumably making a wearable-only plan affordable.
Currently, the Apple Watch is nothing more than rechargeable jewelry when not connected to an iPhone. Adding a cellular LTE modem would enable it to work as a standalone device, and also let the Watch creep closer to being a replacement for the iPhone. No one is suggesting that the Apple Watch is going to be a like-for-like replacement for a smartphone, but it’s plausible that an LTE Apple Watch would encourage people to leave the smartphone at home when running errands or going to the gym.
There’s just as many challenges as opportunities, though. Apple would not be the first company to sell a cellular wearable, as Samsung and LG have been there and done that, with little success. Battery life — already a sore spot for the Apple Watch — would take a hit if the device had to power a cellular radio. There’s also the additional cost of the watch (new features don’t tend to come cheap!) and a month wearables plan, which normally runs somewhere around $10-20 a month more, assuming you already have a monthly phone plan with the biggest carriers.