watchOS 5’s Walkie-Talkie is Essentially a Tweaked FaceTime Audio Call

Among a number of new improvements to health- and fitness-related features, the standout new feature for Apple’s upcoming watchOS 5 is without a doubt the Walkie-Talkie.

To make it easier to reach out to other Apple Watch users, a new Walkie-Talkie app is being introduced with watchOS 5 that lets users send quick voice memos back and forth over a cellular connection or Wi-Fi. It looks like it’s a faster alternative to placing a call, and may be considerably lighter on data usage.

According to a new report from The Verge, here’s how the Walkie-Talkie feature works:

  1. You and your friend agree to become Walkie-Talkie buddies (my term, not Apple’s). One of you asks to start a Walkie-Talkie chat, and then the other agrees to be your pal.
  2. You open Walkie-Talkie and then tap a button to send a message. You then wait a short amount of time for the Walkie-Talkie session to start. It was somewhere between five and 10 seconds in the demo I saw. (Take note: it was an early prototype version of the app. I’m told that it’s not available in the first developer preview.)
  3. Once the call is connected, your friend hears a chime and then the message you sent. They can then tap a button on their watch face to reply instantly.
  4. Their reply is sent to you instantly, and you can then reply by tapping a button yourself.

One might think that this new feature involves a user recording a quick message, sending it, and vice versa. However, according to that same report, the Walkie-Talkie feature is, in fact, a form of “a real-time FaceTime Audio call that just happens to include push-to-talk (PTT) instead of a full-duplex audio call.”

Basically, when two users initiate the Walkie-Talkie app on their Apple Watches, they are actually opening up a specialized form of a normal FaceTime Audio call. This is, instead of talking on a real-time phone call, the users are actually just pushing a button to send messages back and forth. Otherwise, the form of connection is the same.

“This clever hack gives Apple a bunch of advantages. It ensures a real-time communication feeling to Walkie-Talkie chats,” reads the report. “It’s way simpler than previous cellular PTT solutions like those old Nextel phones, iDEN, and its successors. And because it’s based on Apple’s own FaceTime instead of cellular numbers, it works equally well over Wi-Fi and cellular.”

The method does have its downsides, however. Overall, Walkie-Talkie users are starting a real-time audio channel with someone who is essentially muted until they hit the PTT button. This could potentially drain more battery than sending one another voice memos might.

While Apple has official unveiled watchOS 5, it’s only available via developer beta. Apple will likely release the final version of WatchOS 5 when it announces its newest hardware later this year.

Check out Apple’s full press release on watchOS 5 here.

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