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Apple Watch costs as much as a phone – let it be independent like one

It’s time to ditch that syncing feeling and cut Apple Watch’s apron strings

Apple Watch sync to smartphone

I recently spent most of a day swearing at an Apple Watch. And then at myself. And then at the Apple Watch some more. By the day’s end, the Apple Watch had a complex, I had a headache, and a new iPhone had been restored more times than reasonable during a 24-hour stretch. So what went wrong? Everything!

OK, the above is hyperbolic. But this is my Stuff column, and it demands pathos! Or at least something to gripe about! Anyway, onward…

You’re likely aware Apple recently refreshed its Apple Watch line. The cheapest in the range is now the SE. At the high end, there’s the new Ultra, an Apple Watch for Rugged Sporty Types who climb mountains, run ultra-marathons and fight sharks in the ocean depths – possibly all at once.

The SE’s a reasonable £259, but the Series 8’s only 30 quid cheaper than an iPhone SE. That Apple Watch Ultra? £849. That’s the same price as an iPhone 14 – or 85% of a MacBook Air.

But I’m not here to bellyache about prices. And that’s because the Apple Watch is no more a watch than an iPhone is a telephone. Although the Series 8 is arguably a Series 7 with a few new features bolted on, it’s still a quality product. It makes important data instantly accessible. It tracks exercise and guilts you into standing hourly. (Unless you’ve a standing desk, in which case it annoys you hourly, since you’re already standing.) And you can even relax with a round of underground golf.

“I want to break freeeeeeee!”

The thing is, Apple treats Apple Watch not as a computer, but as an accessory – and that’s a problem. At least it was for me. In a flurry of setting things up, I had a new iPhone rip data from an older one, accidentally dismissed a dialog asking if I wanted to connect my Apple Watch (“I’ll sort that later,” I reasoned), and promptly forgot about that. A few hours later, I was on Apple’s website, realising you can’t sort that later, bar going through an unpair/pair dance that can lose you data. 

So I wiped the phone and started over. The iPhone inexplicably transferred no data. Thanks. Next: third time… lucky? It didn’t feel that way, given that I was at my wits’ end. Still, I that time lost only an hour of Apple Watch data and it didn’t muck up my streaks. Because, yes, I actually care about those.

For the record, I’m not suggesting this is down to anything other than my own incompetence. I didn’t do what I was supposed to, when I was supposed to. But also, I’m a tech writer. I live and breathe this kind of thing. The incident struck me as a poor user experience, and made me again consider how strange it is that Apple Watch remains so welded to iPhone. I mean, imagine if you couldn’t use an iPhone without a Mac.

On the dark side (Android), pairing can be optional. Some smartwatches can be their own thing. And if you’re paying phone prices for a wrist computer that has its own App Store, let it live its own life! Give it independent cloud back-up! Let it pair/unpair with phones at speed, whenever you like!

I think it’s ridiculous in 2022 that an iPhone is a mandatory part of the Apple Watch experience, and pairing is so tight you risk data loss when you switch phones. That needs to change – even if that means a tiny reduction in iPhone sales.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to make a run for it. There are furious Apple accountants outside with pitchforks. Still, at least I’ll complete my exercise ring today.