The headline feature of the new Apple Watch may not work as reliably as it should when the device starts shipping later this week.
In a review of the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, which promises the ability to connect to LTE networks independently from a user’s iPhone, The Verge’s Lauren Goode wrote that the device repeatedly struggled to join a cellular network and would instead remain hung up on “random” Wi-Fi signals. The issue persisted across two separate test units, the review said.
The hangup was significant enough for an Apple spokesperson to provide Goode with a statement acknowledging the issue, in which the company says it is “investigating a fix” for the connectivity problem.
“We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular,” the spokesperson told The Verge. “We are investigating a fix for a future software release.”
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when that update might arrive. The new Apple Watch is currently set to ship on September 22.
The LTE support is more or less what Apple is using to sell the $400 wearable in the first place, as it ostensibly gives users the ability to make calls, stream music, and generally use the device in a more self-reliant manner. A model of the Apple Watch Series 3 without LTE support will also begin shipping this week, with prices starting at $329.
The LTE-equipped version of the Apple Watch Series 3 treats cellular as a sort of last resort, connecting automatically only if it can’t pair with an iPhone over Bluetooth or use a Wi-Fi network first. As iMore suggests, the bulk of the problem appears related to that preference for Wi-Fi over LTE, which ostensibly exists to save battery. In having that preference, the device seems to be treating public “captive” networks—such as those you’d see in a hotel or Starbucks—the same as traditional Wi-Fi networks that work without a hitch. Because the Apple Watch handles connectivity automatically, it seems to be susceptible to futilely trying to connect to a captive network it can’t authenticate, which would prevent it from connecting to a more reliable LTE network in the process.
The issue described in The Verge’s review would seem to be avoidable if Apple Watch users could turn off Wi-Fi as one could on an iPhone, but the device doesn’t have that option. (There is an Airplane Mode toggle.)
It’s worth noting that some separate reviews of the Apple Watch Series 3 haven’t mentioned such connectivity issues. Outside of the potential connectivity problems, new Apple Watch buyers will still have to deal with the extra cost of adding the device to a data plan and the inevitable hit LTE connectivity has on battery life.
Ars will have its own review of the Apple Watch Series 3 in the coming days.
Note: Updated with additional information on the apparent nature of the Apple Watch’s connection issue.