Updated December 2017
In September of 2017, Apple announced the series 3 Apple watch that has its own cellular connection and does not require an iPhone to be carried around to work. This is really the first generation of Apple Watches that I considered buying, and in fact did purchase the cellular version. The question is, with respect to Smart Home functions, what exactly can you do with it and does it make sense to buy for that reason?
As you can imagine, there are pro’s and con’s with having a watch that works on its own. On the cost side, the watch itself is $70 more expensive for the cellular version and you also need to add it on to your cell phone plan. It is assigned its own number, but for all intents and purposes looks like an extension to your main cell phone number. When you get a call, they both ring and you can choose which one you answer. With T-Mobile, the incremental cost was $10 per month per watch. Of course, this extra $$ gives you the freedom to leave your phone at home and still be able to be connected to most of the things you can do on your phone.
You’ll have to be a bit patient when using the watch in standalone mode. At least in the early days, there is a noticeable (5-10 second) lag when asking Siri to do something on the watch in standalone mode vs. when it is close to phone.
iPhone vs. Android
This one is easy. The Apple Watch works with your iPhone and not Android, so you will only consider doing this if you have an iPhone.
Smart Home Apps
The way the watch works, is that if an iPhone app also has an Apple Watch app, then that app is initially automatically available on the watch. Remember though that your watch has a very tiny screen, so you won’t get all the functionality of the phone app.
To use an example, let’s consider the Apple Home app on the iPhone. If using HomeKit compatible devices, most of the day to day control of your devices will be done using the Home app on the iPhone. This includes turning individual things on and off, setting scenes where a number of things happen all at once, or setting automations where things happen at preset times or based upon certain triggers like being home or not. The Home app on the iPhone has the most functionality as there is no web equivalent version for computers.
There is a watch ‘Home’ app that is automatically installed and working once you set up your watch. When you click it, all the favorite scenes and accessories (individual devices) that show up on your phone Home app’s home screen, will be there on the watch to turn on or off. In my case, I have a lot of devices so there are quite a number of them not showing on the main page in the phone app. You can do this by de-selecting “Include in favorites” in the phone Home app. This means, that for me, I control a subset of the overall functions from the watch app. If I so choose, it is easy to add more or all of them.
Even though many of individual devices don’t show up in the Apple Watch Home app, using Siri, you can still signal a scene or any individual device to do something. “Hey Siri, open the left office blind” and she will do it.
There are a number of other phone apps that have watch equivalent apps, like Chamberlain (garage door), Lutron (Lighting and blinds), iDevices (outlets), Ecobee (Thermostat). All of these are HomeKit compatible, so while you need to have them on your phone to do updates, their day-to-day use is limited since the Home App covers most of the functions. I have these on my watch anyway, but more just to test them than to use.
For non HomeKit functions like Pentair ScreenLogic 2 (pool equipment), Nest (camera, smoke detector) that have a watch app, you will want to load these on your watch and evaluate the functionality.
Still, there are some apps that don’t have a watch equivalent (at least not yet) like abode (home security), SimpliSafe (also home security), Rachio (sprinklers), Ring (video doorbell). Does this matter? It is truly in the eye of the beholder as to whether you need any specific app to buy the watch or whether you’ll take what is there are make the best of it. If you want to check anything specific in advance, use the app store on your iPhone and search of each “must have on the watch app” and it tells you what other versions of apps are available (iPad, watch, etc). Of course, this is subject to change at any time so keep checking if there is a holdout you are looking for.
And at the risk of confusing thing even further, there are some phone apps like Kwikset (Premis door lock) and Schlage (also a door lock) that are both HomeKit compatible but don’t have their own watch app. They probably don’t need it anyway, since they can be controlled with the Home App on the phone and watch.
The Apple Watch does inherit the useful Smart Home functions of the iPhone and can run alone (without the phone) if you get the cellular version of the Series 3 watch. The watch can do a lot more than just Smart Home functions so this piece is just factor to consider in your purchasing decision. Once, I even looked at my watch to see what time it was!