How Apple Watch could work for Android... and everyone

Apple Watch Android Rene
Apple Watch Android Rene (Image credit: Rene Ritchie)

When Apple announced their second quarter, 2020 financial results, despite everything else going on right now, they still managed to rake in over $58 billion dollars. What's more, wearables revenue, which includes Apple Watch, set a quarterly record.

Now, much like the iPod back in the day and the iPad still to this day, the computer watch market pretty much is an Apple Watch market. With one giant, glaring, neon exception. You have to have an iPhone to use one. But will you always?

Like iPod but Apple Watch

A long time ago at an Apple not so far away, legend has it Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue went to Steve Jobs and said they wanted to port iTunes to Windows, the vastly bigger platform at the time, so they could sell iPods to Windows users, a vastly bigger market.

And Steve said no. F no.

But Phil and Eddy insisted. And even though he was Steve Jobs — Steve Jobs — he trusted the people he hired and said… fine. Do it if you want to. But, if it failed, it'd be on them.

It didn't fail, though. Just the opposite. It blew up. Bigger than anything Apple had ever done before. And it paved the way for something even bigger — the iPhone.

So, why isn't the Apple Watch the same? Why isn't someone going up to Tim Cook and saying we want to port the Watch app to Android, the vastly bigger platform of our time, so they can sell Apple Watches to Android users, a vastly bigger market?

Apple Watch not Windows

Back then, the iPod added to the value of the Mac but not enough that it would ever make the Mac even remotely competitive with Windows PCs en masse. So, selling iPods to Windows PC owners was a better business decision. Same with the iPhone. When Steve Jobs first announced it, he announced it as working with Windows, same as the iPod.

Right now, the Apple Watch adds to the value of the iPhone, but in a different way. I mean, the iPhone makes almost all the profit in mobile already. Almost all profits everywhere.

As markets mature, like the iPhone market has — like the phone market in general has — though, and you don't have more customers buying, you add accessories and services so customers buy more.

Apple spent a decade building up the iPhone so that they could spend the next decade using the iPhone as a platform to build up everything else, from Apple Watch to AirPods to Apple Music to TV+.

But the question remains, would Apple Watch make even more money for Apple if it wasn't dependent on the iPhone? If, like AirPods and Apple Music, and even TV+ to some extent, it could also work with everything, or just many things else?

Like Android. And iPad.

Apple Watch and Wellness

Apple Watch

Apple Watch (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

There are two huge arguments in favor of bring Apple Watch to Android. The first, the financial one, I just covered. The second, the moral one, is this:

The Apple Watch saves lives. I've said this repeatedly. Unlike a PC or phones, which also save lives in general, the Apple Watch has been designed to save lives specifically. From low, high, and irregular heart rate warnings to ECG to fall detection to international emergency calling to who knows what'll be next, the Apple Watch has features designed to save lives.

Tim Cook has said he thinks, when we look back from the future, Apple will be best known for its contributions to health. Both Apple and the Watch can benefit more people, contribute to the health of more people, save more lives, if it grows beyond the iPhone.

So, what does that mean for Apple Watch for Android? And, for that matter, Apple Watch for iPad or Apple Watch for Mac. I mean, forget Android for a moment, Apple hasn't even brought Apple Watch to their own other platforms yet. What about them… all of them?

Apple Watch Independence

When the iPhone was first announced, like I said, it was just like an iPod — utterly dependent on iTunes, which is to say a Mac or Windows PC. Then came iOS 5 and iCloud and PC free and not only did you no longer need a Mac or Windows to own an iPhone, you didn't need a traditional computer at all. The iPhone became independent.

When the Apple Watch was first announced, like I said, it was also like an iPod — but utterly dependent on the iPhone. Then came watchOS 5 and… yeah, the Apple Watch didn't gain anything like that level of independence.

Over the years, though, app logic was moved to the Watch, now the App Store is on-device. Wi-Fi network management was moved to the Watch and now there's limited LTE connectivity available as well. You still need the iPhone to set up, manage, and use the Apple Watch, just not as much as before.

But... if Apple continues to move more and more functionality onto the Apple Watch itself maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe the year after, that could change.

The Apple Watch could go independent. So, then, would it even need to support Android? iPad? Mac?

Apple Watch for Android... and iPad

Some people think the Apple Watch will never leave the iPhone because Apple will always and forever want to use it to keep people locked into the iPhone. Other people think the Apple Watch will have to go to Android because Apple will eventually, inevitably, want to make money from Android users.

Why can't it be both?

As the Apple Watch becomes independent, it'll become accessible to Android users. New, premium versions first, I expect. But them eventually, the less-expensive Apple Watches, like the current Apple Watch Series 3 for $199 in the U.S.

How you'll set up and manage it remains an open question. Could it all be handled directly on the Watch? That'd be ideal but the interface could be a challenge, especially for some people. Would Apple have to make a Watch app for Android to make it easier? Could it be done through the Web?

Either way, my guess is that anyone will be able to get and use an Apple Watch but, people who are part of the Apple ecosystem will still have a much, much better experience.

They'll have the Health app and Activity app, which makes it easier to see and understand all your fitness data. iMessage and FaceTime, which would presumably still be exclusive to Apple devices. Apple Pay vs. other tap-to-pay platforms would be… complicated.

My point is this: By making the Watch truly, fully independent, Apple could provide baseline functionality for Everyone, including Android users, and still offer a better, full-on ecosystem experience for iPhone users. And, you know, iPad and Mac users if we could just get those Health and Activities apps cross-platform. As good as the iPhone is at mobile triage, the iPad is better at aggregation and the Mac at bulk actions.

Making the Apple Watch independent will make it work for Android users without Apple having to make and maintain it for Android. And then, Apple can use those resources to make the Watch better for everyone.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.