What does the Apple Watch do that the iPhone doesn't? Not much, yet

There's little the Apple Watch can do that your phone isn't doing already.

Nate Ralph Associate Editor
Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.
Nate Ralph
2 min read

The Apple Watch's built in accelerometer will track your movement. Tim Stevens/CNET

The reveal of the Apple Watch has answered some of our questions about Apple's digital timepiece. We now have a price (from $349 to astronomical), a few sizes to choose from, and a release date: you can grab yours on April 24. But if you're on the fence about whether or not this is the smartwatch for you, it's important to know what the Apple Watch can and can't do -- especially in light of what your phone is capable of.

The Apple Watch is designed to be tethered to your iPhone. The pair of devices will communicate over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and you'll use your phone to download apps from the Apple Watch Store. This partnership lends the Watch a lot of power: you'll be able to answer calls and text messages right from your wrist, or send quick notes to your contacts. The apps you download are akin to miniature versions of their iPhone incarnation, distilled down to the bare essentials: you will be able to browse Instagram and check your email, but you'll likely appreciate the Uber app a bit more, which will call a car for you in a single tap.

You can pay for purchases right from your wrist with Apple Pay. Tim Stevens/CNET

But this symbiotic relationship means that, like most smartwatches, an Apple Watch without an iPhone is little more than an expensive digital timepiece; there's little that the Apple Watch can do that your phone isn't doing already. And some smartwatches go a bit further -- the Samsung Gear S packs a cellular radio, and the Sony Smartwatch 3 has a built-in GPS. In both cases you can leave your phone behind and still get some functionality out of your device.

So what exactly can the Apple Watch do? Check out our chart below for a rundown.

The Apple Watch vs the Apple iPhone

Apple WatchApple iPhone
Answer Calls YesYes
Send and recieve Messages YesYes
Recieve Notifications YesYes
FaceTime calling NoYes
Cellular connectivty NoYes
Hotspot NoYes
Make payments with Apple Pay YesYes
Fitness tracking YesYes
Take Photos NoYes