Apple Watch's Walkie-Talkie feature in watchOS 5 uses FaceTime Audio technology

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited June 6
The Walkie-Talkie feature of watchOS 5 that enables push-to-talk conversations between Apple Watch users is effectively a FaceTime Audio call rather than recorded audio clips being sent between wearable devices, a design decision that helps keep the function secure by not retaining any recorded messages.

Apple Watch watchOS 5 Walkie Talkie


Shown for the first time during the WWDC 2018 keynote, Walkie-Talkie allows users to communicate with contacts using their Apple Watch. Pressing an onscreen "Talk" button opens the line of communication between the two users, with the recipient's device automatically playing out their contact's message over speakerphone.

Described as "real-time voice but with the spontaneity of short messaging" during the demonstration, the process of setting up the Walkie-Talkie communication and how it operates reveals that it works similar to a limited-functionality FaceTime call.

To establish the session, the user needs to select a contact they want to use Walkie-Talkie with, prompting a request on the recipient's Apple Watch asking to start a conversation. Once accepted, the connection is made, and users can communicate via the push-to-talk system.

When the Talk button is pressed by one user, the call is opened up for just their side, immediately transmitting the live audio to the other person's Apple Watch. The recipient will be alerted to the incoming communication with a notification sound and haptic feedback, before playing the live feed aloud.

A prototype version of the feature shown at WWDC took between five and ten seconds to initiate the initial Walkie-Talkie session, but the push-to-talk communications happen almost instantly, in both directions. The initial delay is when the "call" connects between the devices, which can take place over cellular and a Wi-Fi connection.

While the call stays active even when both users are silent, there will be a limit to how long it will remain open. The initial timeout for the session is currently set at five minutes without activity, but Apple is reportedly still figuring out the appropriate duration for the feature.

By using a live call, Apple avoids the privacy implications of another method to create push-to-talk messaging, namely recording voice memos on one device then transmitting the file over to the recipient. As a live call, none of the communications are recorded by the app, and therefore there is no audio files to acquire.

In its current state, Walkie-Talkie communications will automatically be established and audibly play on a user's Apple Watch once they have accepted their contact's request, allowing for the call to be reestablished in the future in the same way. Aside from turning the Apple Watch off, the user can also turn off incoming Walkie-Talkie calls with an availability toggle.

It is unclear if Apple will make changes to the availability options before watchOS 5 is made available to the public. Also not clear is when the feature will make it to the beta releases of watchOS leading up to the full release.

Apple has already provided the first developer beta of watchOS 5, which is expected to be made available to the public this fall as a free update for Apple Watch Series 1 and later devices. Original Apple Watch owners are not expected to be able to use watchOS 5.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 20
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,417member
    I don't really understand what advantage this has over FaceTime Audio, especially if it's using the same underlying technology. 

    Is it just a retro rebranding of FaceTime Audio for Apple Watch?
  • Reply 2 of 20
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,326member
    crowley said:
    I don't really understand what advantage this has over FaceTime Audio, especially if it's using the same underlying technology. 

    Is it just a retro rebranding of FaceTime Audio for Apple Watch?
    From the demo, it looked like you don't have to wait for the other person to answer in order to send your message. It looked more like how you send an audio message via iMessage, except no need for extra buttons to push to use that feature in Messages.
    edited June 5
  • Reply 3 of 20
    sflagelsflagel Posts: 567member
    Would be great if my daughter could have one of these.... but without having to buy a phone... Also, why is this not available on the iPhone?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 20
    mbenz1962mbenz1962 Posts: 32member
    I am really intreagued by this feature, but I hope there is some way to "deny" an incoming call.  I am sure you can put your Watch on Theater mode or Do not Disturb, but I can imagine this being cumbersome to remember resulting in not always being activated when you don't want a a shrill voice yelling at you from your wrist.  For example when you are in the restroom, impromptu meetings at work, while in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with another person, and the list goes on.  I hope you can just put your hand over the screen or something.  I wonder if this "denial" would then some how alert your "caller" to the fact that you are in the middle of something so they just don't keep blowing you up.
    edited June 5 watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 20
    SendMcjakSendMcjak Posts: 65unconfirmed, member
    LOL -- guys, I'm sure Apple has probably figured out the UI / UX since, you know, that's what they're the best in the world at ...
    chabigStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 20
    mbenz1962mbenz1962 Posts: 32member
    SendMcjak said:
    LOL -- guys, I'm sure Apple has probably figured out the UI / UX since, you know, that's what they're the best in the world at ...
    I'm sure you are right, but a curious omission from the demo none the less.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 20
    gutengelgutengel Posts: 62member
    This would be an interesting feature if it also worked like Zello, creating a local network using BT and wifi. You could use it on festivals and hikes.
    patchythepiratewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 20
    deminsddeminsd Posts: 40member
    Glorified Nextel phone, on a watch.  I hated those walkie-talkie phone conversations that were everywhere.  
  • Reply 9 of 20
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 173member
    crowley said:
    I don't really understand what advantage this has over FaceTime Audio, especially if it's using the same underlying technology. 

    Is it just a retro rebranding of FaceTime Audio for Apple Watch?
    I think there's two things: First, the other person doesn't have to "answer" the call, which seems odd to me because there are a lot of situations where I don't want my watch to just start talking.

    The second difference is that you have a connection to the other person without actually being in a conversation. This seems more useful to me. Sometimes you need to communicate when you're meeting other people or coordinating something, but you don't want to constantly be talking. For example, let's say I'm at an amusement park and I have friends around the park. I could push to talk, and say, "I'm going to grab some food with Owen, then we're going to the Power Tower." And they could just say back, "We're still on the slides, but we'll meet you later." Who knows how well this will actually work, but I can see myself using it.

    I think I'd like some way to accept a session say for the next 1, 3, 6 hours or the whole day. Otherwise, I'd be nervous about getting a voice on my watch while I'm in a meeting or in a quiet place.
    watto_cobrambenz1962
  • Reply 10 of 20
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,326member
    One thing I'd like to see Apple work on is having this communication protocol move freely through certain WiFi networks. For example, cruise ships isolated enviornments where families of any size can all do separate activities with relative security, but they're also so large that it can difficult to locate someone. They tend to have WiFI thought the ship (and an-board cell tower that connects to a satellite link up, so intra -tower communication is also a possibility) and the amount of data being sent is minimal, so if they worked out deal with cruise lines so that you can communicate with family members at any time it could be a boon for the Apple Watch.

    If they used their other technologies to allow for GPS-like location on the ship with Find My Friends (or another app), it would be even better for families with children.
    watto_cobradws-2
  • Reply 11 of 20
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,223member
    sflagel said:
    Would be great if my daughter could have one of these.... but without having to buy a phone... Also, why is this not available on the iPhone?
    Yes, you could actually just buy a walkie-talkie.
  • Reply 12 of 20
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,719member
    I can see this being a useful feature at work. A lot of times I just leave my phone in my office. We have a MESH network now, everywhere, even in our -15 freezers. So my Original Apple Watch works everywhere. I get voice calls and messages, but I see uses as I'm working where this new feature would be handy. There's 4 others here at work with Apple Watches, which is mainly who I would use this feature with anyway.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 20
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,112member
    sflagel said:
    why is this not available on the iPhone?
    The telecoms would throw a fit.
  • Reply 14 of 20
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 390member
    deminsd said:
    Glorified Nextel phone, on a watch.  I hated those walkie-talkie phone conversations that were everywhere.  
    You can carry a conversation via speakerphone on the Apple Watch now? Do you see people walking around now having full blown speakerphone conversations with their watches? That has been a feature from the beginning.. I always liked the two way feature on those old Nextel/Sprint phones. What I hated were the folks that needed to have loud personal conversations using it. :/

    To establish the session, the user needs to select a contact they want to use Walkie-Talkie with, prompting a request on the recipient's Apple Watch asking to start a conversation. Once accepted, the connection is made, and users can communicate via the push-to-talk system.

    I seem to remember that Nextel had a chirp and the person's voice could be heard..you didn't have to accept anything. This is a bit different.  You have to accept the conversation request before you hear anything...

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 20
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 390member
    mbenz1962 said:
    I am really intreagued by this feature, but I hope there is some way to "deny" an incoming call.  I am sure you can put your Watch on Theater mode or Do not Disturb, but I can imagine this being cumbersome to remember resulting in not always being activated when you don't want a a shrill voice yelling at you from your wrist.  For example when you are in the restroom, impromptu meetings at work, while in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with another person, and the list goes on.  I hope you can just put your hand over the screen or something.  I wonder if this "denial" would then some how alert your "caller" to the fact that you are in the middle of something so they just don't keep blowing you up.
      to establish the session, the user needs to select a contact they want to use Walkie-Talkie with, prompting a request on the recipient's Apple Watch asking to start a conversation. Once accepted, the connection is made, and users can communicate via the push-to-talk system.
  • Reply 16 of 20
    libertyforalllibertyforall Posts: 1,167member
    Woohoo, Apple Watch becomes like iDEN/Nextel w/Direct Connect, but I bet it’s nowhere near as fast.  

    Does ra it work using Wi-Fi direct, like at a festival with no WAPs to sign-in to?!

    What about this feature on iPhone & iPad?!
    edited June 5
  • Reply 17 of 20
    SoliSoli Posts: 7,326member
    jcs2305 said:
    mbenz1962 said:
    I am really intreagued by this feature, but I hope there is some way to "deny" an incoming call.  I am sure you can put your Watch on Theater mode or Do not Disturb, but I can imagine this being cumbersome to remember resulting in not always being activated when you don't want a a shrill voice yelling at you from your wrist.  For example when you are in the restroom, impromptu meetings at work, while in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with another person, and the list goes on.  I hope you can just put your hand over the screen or something.  I wonder if this "denial" would then some how alert your "caller" to the fact that you are in the middle of something so they just don't keep blowing you up.
      to establish the session, the user needs to select a contact they want to use Walkie-Talkie with, prompting a request on the recipient's Apple Watch asking to start a conversation. Once accepted, the connection is made, and users can communicate via the push-to-talk system.
    The feature isn't active yet in Beta 1, nor do I yet know anyone running watchOS 5, but I'm assuming that it'll be easy to mute it so that you're not being bothered when you're, say, in DnD.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 20
    sflagelsflagel Posts: 567member
    sflagel said:
    Would be great if my daughter could have one of these.... but without having to buy a phone... Also, why is this not available on the iPhone?
    Yes, you could actually just buy a walkie-talkie.
    Because why? The WT does not work over 4G, does not have SMS, does not have email, etc. Actually, I think what I am asking for is an Apple Watch that does not require a n iPhone..,.
  • Reply 19 of 20
    sflagelsflagel Posts: 567member
    sflagel said:
    why is this not available on the iPhone?
    The telecoms would throw a fit.
    They alreday did when WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc offered audio calls. They got over it.
  • Reply 20 of 20
    I can see this being very useful to my wife and I on our property. WiFi in every building, and often need to briefly communicate something. ATM moment, it’s a text or 10 second phone call. 
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