Kiwi gadget fans have long been annoyed by the absence of the cellular version of Apple's Watch from NZ.

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That's changed today, with the Apple Watch Series 5 GPS + Celluar finally going on sale, priced from $929 (the GPS-only version retails from $729).

The barrier had been that no telco offered support for an Apple Watch eSIM (or electronic SIM - a virtual version of the physical SIM card you slide into a phone).

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Now, Spark has come to the party - which means you can use the cellular version of Apple's Watch to make calls, send texts and use apps like Apple Pay and Uber without the need to tether to an iPhone.

Spark's new $12.99 per month One Number Wearable Plan lets your Apple Watch share your iPhone's calling minutes and txt plan (though again, your handset doesn't need to be in coo-ee), and your Watch gets unlimited data (or at least unlimited up to 40GB, after which it can be throttled).

The Herald was able to make one of the first Apple Watch cellular calls on the new Wearable Plan yesterday, taking advantage of the new eSIM support plus a second required technology component: VoLTE (4G voice-calling), also just added by Spark.

It worked fine. There was no real surprise there, since all three major carriers across the Tasman have offered support for the Apple Watch cellular for a couple of years. Still, it was good to see it in the flesh. For calls, there's no need to hold your Watch to your mouth in Dick Tracy fashion. You can have your wrist near your waist in a natural position and call quality is clear.

Apple's Watch Series 5 has been hitherto best known for its always-on display and ability to download apps directly. The GPS + Cellular version frees it from the need to tether to a primary device.
Apple's Watch Series 5 has been hitherto best known for its always-on display and ability to download apps directly. The GPS + Cellular version frees it from the need to tether to a primary device.

The new cellular support also means Watch Series 5 (GPS + Cellular) owners get international emergency calling.

With eSIM support, the Apple Watch finally feels fully-rounded. And more so because all versions of the Series 5 also add to crucial advances: an always-on display (no more flicking your wrist ostentatiously in meetings to wake it up) and the ability to download apps directly to the Watch.

When the Herald last covered e-SIMs, back in September 2018, the verdict was that they were great for customers.

But Telecommunications Users Association head Craig Young said phone companies also feared that eSIMS made it easier to switch providers - hence some foot-dragging.

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The One Number Wearable Plan is currently only available for the Apple Watch Series 5, but Spark says it'll be expanded to support other devices in future.

With a cellular plan, Apple's Watch (GPS + Cellular) offers international emergency calling, and the ability to make regular calls or txts without the need to be in range of an iPhone or wi-fi.
With a cellular plan, Apple's Watch (GPS + Cellular) offers international emergency calling, and the ability to make regular calls or txts without the need to be in range of an iPhone or wi-fi.

But now that Spark has crossed the Rubicon, its rivals are sure to follow - although the timetable is hazy at this point.

"We remain committed to delivering eSIM support on our network in the future however the roll-out in New Zealand has been delayed due to a range of factors. Our team is working on a release as soon as possible, but we are unable to confirm a date just yet," a Vodafone NZ spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for 2degrees said, "We are looking at how we might bring this technology to our customers. At this stage, we can't say when that will be."

Spark offered is first eSIM support back in April, when it introduced support for the technology for Samsung's Galaxy Watch and for Apple's latest iPhones (eSIM support has been a mainstay for high-end models with all the top handset brands for a while now - it's just been, as with smartwatches, that there's been no mobile carrier in NZ to support the capability).

Whereas an eSIM setup can allow an iPhone and an Apple Watch to share one number, it can enable one handset to host two phone numbers - a boon if you want to juggle home and work numbers on a single handset, or if you're travelling and want to buy a local phone account without the need to faff around swapping out a physical SIM card.