When my 13-year-old told me she really didn’t want a smart phone but my wife and I needed to be able to reach her (since we both work) I immediately thought about the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular as an option instead of getting her a cell phone. Contrary to popular belief, going Apple Watch–only with your child REALLY can work as a replacement for carrying around a cell phone. It works even better for a younger person who has yet to be become addicted to the full power of a smart phone. This is a rather long article that hits the following major aspects of sending your child off with only a cellular enabled Apple Watch:
But wait… don’t you also have to have an iPhone? Yes, going Apple Watch–only with your child still requires an iPhone in order to setup an Apple Watch (and you can’t just use your iPhone; it needs to be an iPhone with a phone number that is not currently in use by anyone else). So if you think getting your child an Apple Watch gets you out of having to also get them an iPhone… guess again. But that doesn’t mean it has to be super expensive. Most families these days hand down older generation iPhones as they upgrade phones, so ask around to see if any of your family members are itching for a new iPhone. If they aren’t, then getting a refurbished or a used iPhone is also an option. The Apple Refurbished online store is an excellent way to get an essentially new iPhone at a pretty good discount. Amazon and Gazelle are also good options to get a used iPhone at an even more discounted price. But as of right now you will need at least an iPhone 6 or newer iPhone in order to set it up and pair it with a cellular Series 3 Apple Watch.
Once you have an iPhone you will also need to have a cell phone plan for that iPhone. But what if you never intend to let your child even have access to that iPhone, much less carry it around? You still have to have cell service for that iPhone and here’s why. The cellular version of the Series 3 Apple Watch has what is called an eSIM and not a normal SIM card like most cell phones have. The eSIM is permanently soldered to the watch’s main board. In order to use the eSIM card the eSIM must be provisioned by the Apple Watch itself and that can only be done when it is paired with an iPhone that already has cellular service. Since the Apple Watch is designed to be used WITH an iPhone and not INSTEAD of an iPhone, the pairing and setup process and the cellular plans worked out with the carriers is all built around having both an iPhone and a Cellular Apple Watch data plan. Maybe if enough of us start using the cellular Apple Watch as a standalone device Apple will adapt, but for now we are stuck with paying for cellular service on both an iPhone and an Apple Watch.
So, for example, I am on the AT&T network and have a family share plan. So it costs me $15 per month (before taxes) for a new line of service for an iPhone and then an additional $10 per month (before taxes) to add an Apple Watch to my plan. Both the iPhone and the Apple Watch are then using the allocation of data we share as a family each month. So assuming the addition of another iPhone and Apple Watch doesn’t break your current shared data usage, it will cost you a minimum of $25 a month (plus taxes) to add you child’s iPhone and cellular Apple Watch to your cellular plan (actual price will vary depending on your situation and cell carrier).
iPhone & Apple Watch Cell Phone Numbers
So does the Apple Watch have its own phone number? Yes and no. Sorry to be so confusing with this one but you can thank our wonderful cell carriers for this mess. Technically, the cellular Apple Watch has its own phone number assigned to it but in practice it takes on the identity of the phone number of the iPhone you set it up with. Each carrier calls it something different. With AT&T the service is called NumberSync®. Basically what this service does is it allows you to make and receive phone calls and text messages from your Apple Watch (even when your iPhone is not nearby). I guess the simplest way to describe it is that it treats your Apple Watch like it is a 2nd iPhone that has the same phone number as your iPhone. So if you leave your iPhone at home and only have your Apple Watch and you call or text someone (or they you) they see the phone call as coming from you (your normal iPhone cell number or text number). It truly “syncs” the phone number associated with your iPhone with your Apple Watch. The only reason I said “yes and no” earlier is that on your cell phone bill you will see your Apple Watch listed as a separate phone number (one that is unique to your Apple Watch). As far as I can tell the phone number associated with your cellular Apple Watch has no purpose other than as a billing identifier.
Benefits of Going Apple Watch–Only With Your child
I know, this seems like a waste of a perfectly good iPhone. After all, if you have to physically have an iPhone and pay for the service to the iPhone in order to activate and use the cellular Series 3 Apple Watch, why not just use the iPhone too? There are several benefits associated with going Apple Watch only with your child:
How to Manage Apple Watch Battery Life
If you do an internet search on Apple Watch battery life you will get all kinds of horror stories about how bad the battery life is. Remember, this is the internet and people like to whine. My daughter has been using the cellular Series 3 Apple Watch for the last 6 months and has only run the watch battery down a couple of times (and that was because she forgot to charge it before heading off to school). It is true that the Apple Watch battery will drain much faster when it is constantly using cellular service instead of just using Bluetooth to connect to an iPhone. But the real battery drain with the Apple Watch is using it to make phone calls. It only has about an hour of battery life for phone calls. But kids really don’t call each other. Honestly, the only time your child will use the call feature on the watch is if you call them. Texting is the main mode of communication and that doesn’t take a lot of battery or data. The easiest way to ensure your child always has an Apple Watch with power is to send them to school with a battery clipped on to their backpack. I recently did a review of the Griffin Travel Power Bank right here on GeekDad.
The Griffin Travel Power Bank works great as a compact battery charger for your Apple Watch. Because it can be clipped directly to a backpack it is perfect to send to school with your child so they always have a way to charge up their Apple Watch. The other key ingredient was getting my daughter on a regular schedule for charging her Apple Watch daily. Either have your child charge it at night while they sleep or if they wear it for sleep monitoring like I do have them charge it for an hour or so while they get ready for school each morning.
Tips for Getting Around “Apple Watch–Only” Pain Points
There are some drawback associated with going Apple Watch–only with your child. After all, Apple designed the Apple Watch to be an accessory to the iPhone so if you push those boundaries you will encounter some pain points. Here are a few tips that are key for helping your child use their new Apple Watch like a pro:
I wish I could tell you that equipping your child with only a cellular enabled Apple Watch was easy, but it isn’t (as you can tell from this rather lengthy article). The main reason it is a bit complicated is because this was NOT a use case that Apple had in mind when they designed the Apple Watch, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Honestly, if you are looking at getting your child an iPhone, then you are going to go through much of this pain already as properly locking down an iPhone for a child is quite a challenging task all by itself. The benefit of going Apple Watch–only with your child is that it greatly simplifies the parental controls you have to worry about just due to the reduced capability of the Apple Watch. So if you have a need to always be in contact with your child, you aren’t crazy about them carrying around a smart phone just yet, and don’t mind spending a bit of extra money and effort, then this is certainly an option you should think about. Apple has a 14-day return policy on their hardware so you can try it out for a couple of weeks, and if it isn’t working for you, return the Apple Watch and go another route. Six months into this experiment with my daughter and we are both happy with results so I wanted to share this as an option for other parents out there that wanted try out going Apple Watch–only with their child. Good Luck!
This post was last modified on July 19, 2018 5:11 pm
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