Apple Watch's Walkie Talkie...? Nah, Just Call Me

My Apple Watch with the Walkie Talkie application attempting to connect to my wife.

The first thing to note – this post is purely my opinion on Apple Watch’s Walkie Talkie feature based on my usage. While I feel that this can generalize to the broader public, I’m sure there are plenty of people who appreciate this feature.

This feature debuted in watchOS 5 (released Sept 2018). I’m a little late to the party in terms of talking about it, but it’s only recently that I’ve formed strong opinions on it.

Communication at Home

I’ve used the Walkie Talkie feature occasionally with my wife over the years, mostly as a novel thing to try. With the whole working from home and just being at home with our young children (ages 2 and 5) our ability to communicate within the house is more important than before.

We would often message each other via Facebook Messenger (our preferred chat application) if it wasn’t urgent. This works well as the Apple Watch would allow us to dictate a message back, or the preferred thumbs up acknowledgment. In times when we’d want a little more throughput in our communication, we’d turn to FaceTime on our iPhone. At times though, we wouldn’t have our iPhones within reach and we would answer the call on our Apple Watch. This realization eventually led us to just leverage the Apple Watch for our high-throughput communication at home.

Gripes with Walkie Talkie

We experimented with using the Walkie Talkie application at first and came up with the following issues:

  • Initial communication is interruptive, and hard to block due to the nature of Walkie Talkie.
    • There is an on/off status, and you will receive a notification if someone tries to reach you. It could be easily missed.
    • The initial beep doesn’t give you a lot of time to prepare for the incoming voice. When your watch is open you can palm your watch to end the conversation though. If the watch is not active, you have to tap to activate then palm to mute, so it is possible for some of the initial voice messages to come through (hopefully not at an undesirable time).
  • The push to talk aspect of the application is nice for a quick one-shot message, but not so much if a longer conversation is needed.
    • You need to keep a hand free to push/release the application’s button.
    • Can be tiresome if you need to communicate multiple sentences.
    • Can be tricky to coordinate the one talking at a time restriction.
  • It’s dependant on both parties having their watch on their person (unlocked and not in Do not Disturb).
    • Sometimes we remove our watches throughout the day (i.e., charging).
  • It’s a bit cumbersome to quickly communicate with an individual.
    • Open the Walkie Talkie application, find a person, press the person, check if the person is online, push to talk. You could use Siri to “Walkie Talkie <person_name>” to immediately jump to the part where it checks if the person is online.
    • Separate from an individual’s contact card (on the iPhone’s contacts)
    • The Walkie Talkie complication on the watch only opens the application – you still need to find the person (however it might be cached on the right person if you recently used it).
  • Occasionally seeing the Walkie Talkie’s status icon on the top of the watch’s screen was just annoying.

Just Call Me

We found that the shortcomings of the Walkie Talkie application quickly led us to just calling each other using the Apple Watch itself. We’d have the option of using FaceTime Audio or even just calling via our talk mobile plan. Overall, calling each other addressed many of the shortcomings of Walkie Talkie:

  • You would receive an incoming call notification on the watch, allowing you to take the call or not.
    • No awkward moments if a call comes through when you are not in the right situation to take the call.
    • The idea of calling sets the expectation that a conversation is needed. If you cannot take the call, then you are able to shoot back a quick message of acknowledgment.
  • You can carry a conversation and still have both hands free (no need to push to talk).
  • If you aren’t wearing the watch, the call will still come through on your iPhone.
    • This is a huge benefit for us, as it is frustrating to try and use Walkie Talkie and find out the person is unavailable.
  • The watch’s complication for a Contact is superior to the Walkie Talkie’s complication, as one tap takes you directly to the contact.
    • You can tap the phone then FaceTime Audio to initiate it.
    • You have the option to use alternative means of communication as well from the complication (traditional voice plan or SMS).
  • You can use Siri to place a call for you completely hands-free using “Call <person_name>”.
  • Fluid conversations happen are possible because there is no push to talk.

At this point, we both have each other as a complication on our Apple Watches for quick high-throughput communication.