Migrating NumberSync to a new Apple Watch

…is (at least on AT&T’s network), almost impossible.

Now, I consider myself a technically adept individual. Then again, a lot of forty-six year old people fall into that category; some of us are real stinkers in this department and others of us, well, we all have gaps in our personal objectivity that conform to the exact size and shape of our own weak points. I’m not perfect is what I’m trying to convey here; although there’s a statistically decent chance and a pretty consistent pool of data to point to the idea that I’m probably not awful.

Migrating AT&T’s Numbersync service from one Apple Watch to another seems like something pretty straightforward. When you set the service up you effectively make your cellular-capable Apple Watch a new cell device on their network that acts as a surrogate phone (complete with it’s own phone number) which in turn uses authentication on the device to tell AT&T when to dynamically forward calls to that device. It works very well, and I have no problem with it except that when you decide to move that service to a new watch then it all goes horribly wrong.

My wife and I each have an Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, and as she likes to leave her phone at home when she goes running (and as I tend to leave my phone in odd places and not notice for an hour or two) having the ability to have calls bounce to the watch has been very handy. Still, her stainless steel series 3 is a little heavy and I have a pretty big chunk of trade-in credit with the Apple Store, so I went and bought her a nice, shiny new aluminum Series 5.

“Can I get calls on it?” she asked me. “Sure,” I told her. “No problem. I’ll take care of that right now.”

That was three days ago.

What followed would have been simpler had AT&T’s site not choked on something for a couple of days and flatly refused to let anyone log in, but only a little simpler. I used the time by googling and poking around forums to see the exact routine required to migrate numbersync from an old Apple Watch to a new one, and found out that, well, there isn’t one.

Here is what AT&T has to say about Numbersync. This is pretty much the final word on the subject other than a lot of marketing blurb. For those who don’t want to follow the link, it gets you this:

So, what it is, how to add it to a new watch, and how to remove it. Crucially, there’s also this line:

Heads up: If you remove NumberSync, your watch won’t be able to use our mobile network. But, the watch will stay on your plan and you’ll still be billed for its monthly service. To cancel your plan, contact Customer Care.”

…so you can remove Numbersync from the device but they’ll keep charging you that $10/month per device? Right.

No. No I did not.

Still, I finally managed to get the site to load, logged in, and decided that I’d try and transfer Numbersync from my stainless steel watch to the aluminum one I wear when I’m doing the kinds of things that might entail scratching up a nice stainless steel watch (i.e., most of the things I do all day). That way I’d be the experiment and if it all went wrong then my wife wouldn’t have to deal with things not working properly. Following a post on the AT&T forums I went in and removed the watch from the synced devices connected to my phone number on my AT&T account, unpaired the old watch and told it that I didn’t want to keep the cellular plan enabled, and then enabled service on my aluminum watch.

And everything worked great! The old watch disappeared, the new watch showed up, and all was well. And then the old watch reappeared as a device on my account, neither watch showed as being synced with the phone, and AT&T sent me a nice note to the effect that they really appreciated me giving them $20/month for two watches instead of $10/month for one.

Finally, I called AT&T support and talked to Ron. I don’t know if Ron is his real name or where Ron is (I suspect India) but Ron is clearly the kind of hero we all need. Ron was kind and patient and told me that I wasn’t out of my mind, and that in fact there is no way to transfer numbersync service from one Apple Watch to another other than by calling support and having them remove the existing device from the account and then manually adding the new one afterwards.

And this, while mildly inconvenient, would be fine. I can make a phone call and talk to a guy; that’s not a controversial or challenging thing for the vast bulk of people. It is, however, moderately staggering that Apple can sell millions of watches with cellular capability and a major carrier has no easy way to accomplish something this simple…