Apple Watch and its wireless tech

What NFC, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi will, or won't, do for Apple

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"So when you're home, you don't have to be within Bluetooth range of your phone and you can be anywhere in your house and still get all of your messages and take your phone calls-- just like that. Super cool," Lynch added.

How is that done?

Calls and data connections outside of Bluetooth range are completed over Wi-Fi, even though it's not the typical Wi-Fi with a connection to a Wi-Fi access point that we are familiar with in millions of offices and public locations. In this case, the iPhone and the Apple Watch remain connected in peer-to-peer fashion using AirDrop technology, according to analysts.

With that approach, Bluetooth is used to establish the initial connection between the two devices, but the connection is sustained beyond the range of Bluetooth (which is about 10 feet) over Wi-Fi, in peer-to-peer fashion.

Apple seems to have confused a few analysts about its use of Wi-Fi in the Apple Watch. After the March 9 event, some analysts told Computerworld that the Apple Watch doesn't include Wi-Fi, at least in the traditional sense. Part of the confusion stems from an Apple press release from Sept. 9 that says the "Apple Watch also features Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 4.0 to pair seamlessly with your iPhone." The verb "features" seemed to have thrown off some experts as to what exactly Apple is doing in the Apple Watch. Some questioned if there is even a Wi-Fi chip inside the watch.

apple watch three faces Apple

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said it is now commonplace to create and install in devices a single chip with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radio capabilities, which is likely what Apple has incorporated into the Apple Watch.

AirDrop was first developed to communicate peer-to-peer between Macs in 2011 without the need to connect to a Wi-Fi access point. Transitioning AirDrop to iOS, Apple relied on Bluetooth to set up a connection between two devices with Bluetooth's low energy, then converted the connection to use Wi-Fi, which is much faster than Bluetooth and benefits from having a far greater range of 30 yards or more).

The issue of how Wi-Fi works in the Apple Watch was thrashed out in a long article in Apple Insider last September. That article noted there was, at the time, an "apparent contradiction" about how the Apple Watch uses Wi-Fi, but basically concludes that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are paired together to speed data transfers "over a connection initially established by the more power-efficient Bluetooth specification."

Wireless tech, apps, style

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research for Kantar WorldPanel, called the way Wi-Fi works in the Apple Watch an important feature which has not been fully appreciated.

"Right now if I move to the other side of my house or go into a meeting in the office and leave my phone behind, my Pebble [smartwatch] is useless, as it disconnects," she said. "But being able to do that or even leave the phone in the locker room at the gym as you work out certainly adds to the exercise experience."

On the other hand, Gold said the kind of Wi-Fi capability on the Apple Watch isn't at a level of technology that many people will care about. The fact that Apple resorted to so many demonstrations of how the Apple Watch works with apps – atop an elaborate description of the luxury materials used in making the devices -- shows that Apple is still uncertain about what will most appeal to users, Gold added.

There's no question that wireless capabilities will matter to some extent, but only as a part of a larger product set. Most analysts are convinced that Apple is the company that will bring smartwatches to the point of wider popularity.

"With Apple's scale and financial might, they will be able to garner the right level of support to provide utility above the smartphone," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

For workers, the Apple Watch will likely be too expensive for many organizations to sponsor or pay for en masse. "We'll see some experiments with Apple Watch in the enterprise, but it's definitely not the next big thing device there. It will be a niche usage case for certain workers in certain situations," said J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester.

Gownder noted that Salesforce immediately jumped on the Apple Watch bandwagon with an analytics app, an indication that it has "enterprise relevance." Major companies that have standardized on iOS, such as General Electric, might use the Apple Watch for customer service, field work and other hands-free scenarios, he said. When used by sales personnel in luxury retail settings, the Apple Watch could confer a sense of "brand prestige," he added.

The Apple Watch amounts to a lot more than a collection of wireless technologies, with a big emphasis on style and plenty of efficacious apps.

"Apple Watch will spur interest in smartwatches among the more than 300 million people who bought iPhones in the past two years," predicted Gartner analyst Angela McIntyre.

The Apple Watch will also take on the traditional watch market, she said, spurring old-line watch makers to regard smartwatches as the next evolution of the digital watch. "Apple Watch is priced in the luxury category, challenging traditional watch manufacturers on their higher-margin offerings," she said.

Suffice to say, there will plenty of people watching Apple Watch sales on April 24.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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