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It was an eventful day for Apple fans yesterday, with the arrival of the long-awaited AirPods Max over-ear headphones and an official launch date for Apple Fitness+, however that wasn’t all that Apple had to announce yesterday, with some quieter announcements heralding the expansion of the new Apple Watch Family Setup feature to even more countries.
Apple first announced Family Setup during its September Time Flies event, alongside the unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE, as a means of allowing a single iPhone user to pair up additional Apple Watch devices for family members who don’t have an iPhone of their own.
It’s actually the first indication we’ve seen of the Apple Watch truly being able to be used more independently of an iPhone, and although it’s still a long way from the Apple Watch becoming a fully standalone device, it’s a pretty big step in the right direction.
Although the feature is primarily targeted at kids who may be too young to have an iPhone yet — it includes a full slate of parental controls and even a special “School Time” mode to keep kids focused during class time — there’s really no reason it can’t be used for any family member who doesn’t want or need an iPhone, whether that’s elderly parents or even simply your spouse or partner who may otherwise prefer to use a basic cell phone — or none at all.
Apple Watch Family Setup Is for Cellular Models Only
Unfortunately, one of the big catches to the new feature is that it’s restricted to cellular Apple Watch models only, as from Apple’s perspective half the point of giving someone an Apple Watch is to help them stay connected, and unlike a standard Apple Watch setup, there won’t be a paired iPhone nearby for the Apple Watch to piggyback on.
However, this also means that cellular carriers have to buy into the feature, and much like the original rollout of the first cellular-capable Apple Watch back in 2017, it’s going to take some time for them to all get on board. This meant that at launch, the Apple Watch Family Setup was limited to the big three U.S. carriers and a handful of others in mainland China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.K.
To be fair, that was a pretty comprehensive list, although it also conspicuously missed a few key markets where Apple otherwise has a strong presence, such as Australia and Canada — countries where almost all of Apple’s other services are readily available.
Of course, this isn’t entirely on Apple, since as we already noted, the carriers in those countries need to get on board; up until now, setting up a cellular Apple Watch has used a feature commonly known as “NumberShare” which allows the cellular number from your iPhone to be provisioned on your Apple Watch. Family Setup, on the other hand, requires that the Apple Watch get a different phone number.
The good news, however, is that Apple is keeping its promise to drive the expansion of this feature to even more countries, and as of next Monday, Apple Watch Family Setup will be launching in Canada, Bahrain, Norway, and Spain.
Apple announced the news on its Canadian and Norwegian newsroom pages yesterday, and while similar announcements haven’t appeared in Bahrain or Spain, they’re listed in the notes for the final “release candidate” of watchOS 7.2 that was sent out to developers and public beta testers yesterday — the version that is expected to become the public release by next Monday.
In Canada, Apple Watch Family Setup will initially only be available on a single carrier, Bell Mobility, which was notably also the first carrier to support the cellular-capable Apple Watch back in 2017, beating out its competitors by several months. However, at this point Bell has not yet announced any pricing or how customers will be able to go about signing up for the service.
Apple Watch Family Setup Requirements and Limitations
It’s worth keeping in mind that Apple’s Family Setup isn’t going to be for everyone, since there are some notable limitations to the feature.
In fact, we generally wouldn’t recommend spending the money on an Apple Watch Series 6 to be used for Family Setup right now, as Family Setup disables the Blood Oxygen and ECG sensors — two of the marquee features of the more expensive Apple Watch model — along with irregular heart rhythm notifications, Cycle Tracking, and Sleep Tracking.
On the other hand, the Apple Watch SE seems like it was pretty much made for Family Setup, since it excludes these sensors entirely anyway, although it’s worth noting that you don’t have to buy a new Apple Watch to use Family Setup — any cellular-capable Apple Watch model going back to the 2018 Series 4 can be used, as long as it’s updated to watchOS 7.2 or later (Apple actually concedes in the fine print that a cellular plan isn’t strictly necessary for Apple Watch Family Setup, however you still need a cellular-capable Apple Watch model to use the feature).
You also won’t be able to use Apple Pay with a credit or debit card, and although Apple Cash Family is available to users in the U.S., we wouldn’t hold our breath about that coming to other countries any time soon, as Apple Cash launched back in 2017 and still has yet to expand beyond U.S. borders.
Just keep in mind that there are a few other apps that Apple Watch Family Setup users won’t be able to access right now, including Podcasts, Remote, News, Home, and Shortcuts. This is likely due to the dependency of these apps on a paired iPhone right now, although this could certainly change in future watchOS releases.
That said, Fall Detection is still available on the Apple Watch for users 18 and older, and users over the age of 13 can get high and low heart-rate notifications, which can be life-saving features by themselves.
Further, even younger kids will still be able to enjoy the fitness features of the Apple Watch, and it seems likely that Fitness+ will still be available via Apple’s family sharing. Users under the age of 13 will see “move minutes” instead of active calories in the Activity App, but it should otherwise work in much the same way as it does for other Apple Watch users.
More importantly, however, getting an Apple Watch with Family Setup is a great way to make sure you can keep in touch with your kids and other family members, since they’ll have their own phone number for making calls and sending and receiving texts and messages, along with the ability to keep track of their location using Find My.