Here’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d write: my favorite new Apple Watch feature is one that turns the wearable into a (slightly higher tech) walkie-talkie.
I’m talking, of course, about the new “Walkie-Talkie” feature for the Apple Watch, which Apple showed off Monday at its World Wide Developer Conference.
The feature, which won’t launch until later this year, works pretty much the way it sounds: it lets two Apple Watch owners send real-time “watch-to-watch” audio messages with just one tap of the wrist. So, you know, kind of like Inspector Gadget, or those Boost Mobile phones from 10 years ago.
But Apple’s Walkie-Talkie is actually a bit different than the walkie-talkie features that used to be popular on flip phones.
Apple Watch owners who want to chat via Walkie-Talkie must first accept an invitation to chat before the feature is enabled. Once the invite is accepted (you only have to accept once), you can pull up Walkie-Talkie, tap the Talk button, and say your message.
On the receiving end, you’ll hear a quick beep and then the message. It all happens pretty much instantly, and it works whether you’re on a Wi-Fi or cellular connection.
Behind the scenes, it’s all powered by FaceTime Audio, which allows the messages to come through pretty much instantly. It also means that you’re not limited on length — the message can be as long or as short as you want (at least in the current prototype version of Walkie-Talkie).
It’s not hard to imagine all kinds of handy use cases for the feature, which feels much less awkward and cringey than trying to make an actual phone call from your wrist. But it’s also not difficult to imagine scenarios where it goes hilariously wrong, too.
I mean, you’re giving people the ability to essentially shout at you from your wrist at any moment — that’s way more intrusive than a regular phone call or text (and probably not a permission you should grant lightly).
Apple’s thought of this too, which is why the feature requires people to accept invitations before chatting. You can also set Walkie-Talkie to “unavailable” or use Do Not Disturb settings to prevent the messages from coming through. And, even if you forget, you can quickly cover your watch face when you hear the beep and the message will be muted.
Potential issues and comparisons to flip phones aside, what I like most about the feature is that it actually kind of makes sense for the Apple Watch. I’ve never really understood the appeal of answering phone calls from your wrist, much less actually carrying on an extended conversation that way.
But seeing the Walkie-Talkie feature for Apple Watch reminded me why those gimmicky-seeming flip phones were so popular in the first place: it’s actually kind of fun. And it might actually make sense to have on your watch.