The Apple Watch Series 3 is now available to buy from Apple! But if you want to use the device’s new cellular features, you’ll need a suitable data plan to go with it – and at the moment your only choice as a UK consumer is EE.
(You can either buy the watch from EE on contract, or buy it from someone else, such as Apple, then add it on to your phone plan – which also needs to be with EE – at an additional tariff that we think will probably be £5 per month.)
Those who are not on EE contracts already, and not willing to switch to EE in order to use the Apple Watch 3, will be wondering at this point whether other providers will be able to sell watch plans in the future. For how long, in other words, will EE retain its status as the sole UK provider?
In separate articles we’ve looked at the chances of O2 and Three being able to sell Apple Watch 3 data plans, but in this article we focus on Vodafone.
Why can’t Vodafone sell the Apple Watch 3 now?
According to EE, it’s because Vodafone and other network providers do not have the necessary technology. A company spokesperson told us: “EE is the only UK network that has the capability to ‘share’ a number across a hard SIM (in the phone) and the Apple e-SIM (in the watch).”
At present, as far as we know, this isn’t something Vodafone can offer – so it isn’t simply a question of waiting for an exclusivity deal to expire.
In the past Apple has signed exclusive deals with providers in return for better terms. The first iPhone was available on O2 only in the UK, the provider wining the deal against fierce competition by offering to return much of its revenues to Apple. (That exclusive deal lasted for just over two years, before Orange were brought on board too.) But that doesn’t appear to be the case here.
If the Apple Watch arrangement was a ‘pay to play’ type of deal like the iPhone, one would expect Apple to have offered exclusivity for a significant length of time. But in this case the barrier is based on technology factors, not revenue-sharing.
Does Three plan to cover the Apple Watch Series 3?
We don’t know. We’ve contacted Vodafone for comment and the company has yet to respond. We’ll post the statement when we receive it.
Based on the statements we’ve received from Three and O2, however, we don’t expect any promises. Three acknowledged fairly plainly that it doesn’t plan to cover the Apple Watch 3 because of the technological limitations mentioned by EE, while O2 cagily said it has no plans at the moment but “continues to review its range of products and services to ensure that they meet the needs of customers”.