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The New Apple Watch Won’t Need an iPhone to Actually Be Useful

It can pick up calls, receive texts, and stream music without a phone nearby.

The new Apple Watch Series 3. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Today, at the company’s keynote address in Cupertino, California, Apple debuted the latest version of the Apple Watch — Series 3 — which now has cellular capabilities built right into it. This means that for the first time, the smart watch won’t need to have an iPhone nearby in order for the wearer to pick up calls and receive text messages.

Apple COO Jeff Williams told the audience inside the Steve Jobs Theater (part of Apple Park, Apple’s new offices) that they now “have the freedom to go anywhere with just the Apple Watch.” With the new watch, users can go for a run or to the beach and “be reached at any given moment while staying in the moment.” In a classic Apple-style stunt, Williams even phoned an Apple Watch employee, Diedre Caldbeck, who picked up the call while paddle-boarding on Lake Tahoe to demonstrate just how well the watch functions “in the middle of a windy lake.”

Cellular technology is no doubt a big step for the Apple Watch, since up until now, those not totally enamored by the latest gadgetry didn’t necessarily get the point of having one if you still need to be near your phone to use it.

Other features of the new Apple Watch include the ability to stream music, thanks to the technology built in for cell phone use; the watch can now stream up to 4 million songs from Apple Music. Apple says Series 3 will be 70 percent faster and still have an 18-hour battery life, even with all the streaming and phone calls. Apple’s also made updates to the watch’s fitness features, like an all-new system that will monitor heart rates. And Siri will be able to talk, which means you can ask the smart watch questions without having to look at the screen.

Even with all the new additions, Williams says the new watch is only 2.5 millimeters thicker than the previous edition, Series 2 — roughly the thickness of two sheets of paper. (“If it gets too busy, it looks like a house arrest bracelet and you’re not gonna wear it,” he joked). Apple is also releasing a wireless charging mat, AirPower, which can charge Apple gadgets, including the new watch.

The Series 3 version with cellular will sell for $399, while you can get the Series 3 without the cellular features for $329. Meanwhile the original Apple Watch, Series 1, is being bumped down to $249. Orders for the new watch can be placed starting September 15th, and they’ll be available starting September 22nd. In the US, Apple will begin working with network providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, although Williams did not say if the watch will add more costs to mobile plans.

With all of these fancy new features, Apple CEO Tim Cook, who kicked off today’s event, boasted that the Apple Watch is officially “the number one watch in the world,” ahead of brands like Cartier, Fossil, Omega, and Rolex — although he didn’t exactly add any qualifiers as to what exactly that means or how they’d know: As usual, Apple is sketchy about sharing any unit sales numbers of the Apple Watch.