Thursday thoughts: About those Apple Watch LTE plans
 
Data plans for devices other than smartphones are a heated topic. Plenty of folks don’t think they should have to pay extra just to have LTE support on a tablet, mobile hotspot or wearable device. 

I get that. If you have an unlimited data plan for your phone, what’s the difference if your using that data on your phone or on something else. 

From a carrier perspective though, there’s a clear value add here and so the thought is there‘s room for a separate charge. Frankly, I get that too. I don’t even have a problem with it if each device has a separate SIM card (or eSIM) because that allows you to use multiple devices on LTE at the same time.

But different devices offer completely different experiences based on multiple factors, but primarily on the screen size. Got a large tablet while you’re out and about? Streaming video on it is more immersive and given a choice between watching it on a phone or a tablet, I’d rather do it on the tablet when I can.

Smartwatches and other wearables though: They have inherent limitations compared to phones and tablets. And the LTE pricing for them should be adjusted accordingly.

Here’s why. You can’t stream video on a wrist sized screen. You can‘t run full apps on them either. Heck, you’re not even getting email attachments on them in the mail client. Make sense? 

Because the screen size completely limits what you can effectively do, you’re not going to do much with a wearable device, at least not compared to a phone or a tablet. Instead, you get small bits of data (notifications, messages and the like) and have micro-interactions with apps (make a digital payment, get directions, or track exercise, for example).

And that brings me to the Apple Watch 3 with LTE. I received mine the first day of availability and it’s been a fantastic experience. It’s not perfect, but it’s darn good. Plus the LTE connection brings me a liberating freedom that I haven’t felt since I got my first smartphone. I simply leave the phone behind at home any time I’m out of the house for two or three hours. Any more than that and I generally bring my phone with me, although I often just leave it in the car.

Of course, this liberation comes at a cost: $10 a month. That sounded mostly reasonable to me at first, but after six weeks with the watch, I’m not so sure.

Granted, I’m still in my three month free trial for the LTE device, so I’m technically not paying anything. Yet. But I’ve been watching how and how much I’m using the LTE connection in it. And $10 monthly is too much for my use case, at least on a per-GB viewpoint.

I realized this when I checked the cellular usage of the watch last week. It was so low, I thought I was mistaken. Today, I signed in to my T-Mobile account on the web to double-check myself. From October 11 through today, I’ve used a whopping 21 MB of LTE data on the watch. That’s with most app notifications turned on and an average of 2.5 hours a day with the watch solely connected to an LTE network.

Just for kicks, I asked folks on Twitter if they were seeing the same usage. I didn’t get a ton of responses but not one of them had hit 50 MB yet in a billing cycle. So it’s not just me.

Now I realize that Apple only just enabled Apple Music and the Beats One channel streaming so when folks start using that feature, LTE data usage will surely go up. The thing is: I really don’t want that feature.

I suspect Apple has worked a deal with all four major US carriers on the Apple Watch LTE data plans to make sure that if folks want to stream music over LTE on the wrist, they can do so. I find it odd that all four carriers have the exact same three month trial period and $10 monthly price tag after that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is even getting a cut of this data plan revenue too.

Either way, if I don’t use the music streaming, I’ll be paying $10 monthly for maybe 50 MB of monthly data usage. That’s $200 a GB if you look at it on a usage basis. Ideally, I’m hoping that at least T-Mobile takes an ”un-carrier” approach here and offers a $3 or $5 monthly plan limited to 200 MB for folks that don’t want or need music streaming. I’m doubtful of that but one can hope!

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