Apple Admits Its New Apple Watch Series 3 Has a Big Problem

Sep 20, 2017

Apple admits its new Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular LTE connectivity, due out this Friday, September 22, has a serious problem. And it's one that seems burdensome enough to wave off would-be buyers until Apple issues an update.

When that fix might arrive is anyone's guess, but the problem — noticed by outlets like The Verge and the Wall Street Journal — manifests as intermittent cellular connectivity. In a statement, Apple acknowledged the problem stems from the Watch attaching to "unauthenticated Wi-Fi wireless networks without connectivity."

In plain language, the Apple Watch 3 seems to be connecting to wireless networks it shouldn't be, which then screws up LTE connectivity, since the Watch 3 is effectively creating a connectivity dead end, then doubling down on it. The ability to shift back and forth between connectivity paths is called a "handoff," and for some reason the Watch 3 can't manage it consistently.

Read more: What It's Like to Use Apple's New Cellular Watch

Apple says it's "investigating a fix for a future software release." Hopefully "investigating" in this case implies eventuality and not a hypothetical that could hit the sort of brick hardware design wall that culminates in a product recall to remedy.

The Apple Watch 3 was feted by Apple at its annual iPhone unveiling last week as able to make calls as well as send and receive data without a smartphone. At one point during the show, a woman paddle boarding without her smartphone (but wearing the new Apple Watch) stood on her board and called into the event, demonstrating the smartwatch's ostensible independence. Though the Apple Watch 3 can only manage an hour of talk time, Apple is touting it as a way to maintain data and voice connectivity for short periods of time in situations not conducive to using a smartphone.

But in reviews out today, some critics report the watch has crippling connectivity problems, including dropped or choppy calls and issues connecting with Siri, Apple's voice assistant. In the Journal's case, the problem occurred across three separate preproduction models, in different states and with separate LTE carriers. "A cellular device is, sometimes literally, a lifeline," writes Journal critic Joanna Stern. "That’s why I can’t recommend the cellular Apple Watch Series 3 until the connectivity is more reliable."

At $400, the cellular version of the Apple Watch 3 is pricey — $70 more than the non-cellular version. It also requires an extra monthly data fee, in the vicinity of $10 per carrier. If you haven't ordered one yet, it's probably best to hold off, or opt for the non-cellular version, which includes the other Series 3 benefits like a faster processor and barometric altimeter. Not that you'd get a cellular Apple Watch 3 quick anyway: according to the Apple Store, orders for the LTE version are currently backordered 3 to 4 weeks.

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