The new Apple Watch’s most significant feature is that it can be untethered from an iPhone, thanks to its new cellular connectivity.
But in China, the Watch has been unexpectedly shackled once more.
Without advance warning, Chinese cellular companies abruptly cut cellular service to new Watch subscribers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Industry experts tell the Journal that the reason may be that Chinese security authorities cannot track Watch users as they do smartphone users.
Get tech news in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the free Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter.
The suspension is the latest blow to Apple’s Chinese ambitions, which have faced many hurdles in the past few years. Apple has struggled to buoy its iPhone sales in China, facing stiff competition from domestic companies such as Huawei and Xiaomi. In July, Apple installed Vice President of wireless technologies Isabel Ge Mahe as its Chinese head of operations to increase demand and smooth issues with Beijing.
Apple has acquiesced to Beijing’s demands in the past over censorship and other security concerns. Last year, Apple suspended its iBooks and iTunes Movies services in China. Days after Ge Mahe’s hire, Apple removed 400 virtual private network apps from the Chinese App Store to remove ways for consumers to circumvent government internet filters.
In China, the three major cellular carriers are all state-owned, and subscribers need to provide their identification to get an attachable SIM card to activate their phones. But the case is different for the Watch; the device comes with an embedded SIM card built by Apple, meaning the carriers have little to no control over its data.
When the Watch came out, only one carrier — China Unicorn — offered the cellular Apple Watch. Now, China Unicorn says on its website that the cellular feature had been offered on a trial basis, with no mention if and when the feature will return.
Apple stock was down more than 2.5 percent Thursday, its biggest decline in several weeks, in part due to the Apple Watch news and other reports of poor sales of the iPhone 8.
Photo: A man works inside an unauthorized Apple mobile workshop in Shanghai on Aug. 15, 2017. (CHANDAN KHANNACHANDAN/AFP)
Tags: Apple Watch, China, iPhone 8, Isabel Ge Mahe