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How Apple could make its Watch Walkie Talkie even better

One user experience improvement could help Apple Watch’s Walkie Talkie feature gain more users

We were excited to see Walkie Talkie re-hit the mainstream consciousness with Apple Watch OS5. In Apple Watch OS5 Beta 2, Apple released its beat version of its Walkie Talkie available on Apple Watch.

How it works is quite simple. If you had someone whom had accepted your invitation, you were able to press on a Talk Button. Your friend would then hear your voice instantly on their watch.

“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. “

Walkie Talkie looks like a hit feature of WatchOS5. Since its announcement in WWDC 2018 and the subsequent working release in Beta 2, many publications and Youtube videos have detailed how it works and their thoughts on it.

Early Reviews are Positive

Early reviewers were constantly saying how fast it was. This is usually due to the fact that msot user’s expreince with voice messages were through apps like WhatsApp and Wechat. In WhatsApp and WeChat, voice messages were not sent until you finished recording the entire voice message. This means the recipient only starts hearing you after you completed speaking the entire sentence.

The Walkie Talkie App on Apple Watch instead uses real time streaming which means that it is sending your voice as you speak. Your recipient hears your voice almost as soon as you speak.

Early reviewers also mentioned on the use cases of Walkie Talkie. The consensus seem that it was a convenient way of communication especially suited to a Watch form factor.

Having it in a watch form factor means you could hear messages at any time and could reply easily with your voice.Compared to text, the method of input is much easier. Compared to a call, because the messages are shorter, your arms won’t get tired from holding the watch near your ear.

The Drawbacks

Most reviewers also noted that you would probably only use these with close friends or people whom you really trusted. Apple termed these people “Walkie Talkie Buddies”. The problem is with the instant voice feature of walkie talkie. Because you don’t have to press play on each message, it could also cause some embarrassing scenarios when you friend suddenly walkie talkies you.

However having an allowed list really breaks the spontaneity of walkie talkie. Coming from making walkie talkie apps (VoicePing), the behavior of Apple’s Walkie Talkie could be significantly improved in 3 ways to make it more useful for the masses.

Problem 1: You need to accept an invitation before someone can talk to you, thereby limiting the spontaneity

Before you can talk to someone, you have to send a invitation. The party has to accept before you can start the Walkie Talkie. This works fine if both of you are prepared to try it at the same time together.

But in the real world, the person you want to talk to might not be ready to listen to you. After a few failed attempts at having someone accept your invitation, you would probably give up and Apple’s Walkie Talkie feature will be relegated into the unused depths where Heartbeat now rest. (https://www.imore.com/how-send-someone-your-heartbeat-apple-watch-iphone)

Problem 2: Having to manage whom can Walkie Talkie you

The next problem comes in having user to manage their “Buddies”. Buddies are currently “Always Allowed” unless you make yourself unavailable on Walkie Talkie. However once someone is in the list, they can talk to you unless you remove them.

The key point of walkie talkie is for short quick conversations. If Walkie Talkie does become somewhat successful, you will have a lot of buddies, all of whom could be your source of embarrassment.

However to ask the users to remove buddies after they are done talking is not the elegant design solution Apple is famed for as it places the work of management onto the user.

Problem 3: If you were not paying attention, you probably will not hear the message content

This problem is less obvious as most people have not used a Walkie Talkie before. Apple’s watch speaker is fine but not the loudest. When the hand is at its natural position when you are walking around or sitting, the Watch is not near your ear.

Because Walkie Talkie messages come out instantly, you might not hear the initial message. Apple tries to overcome this with a audible beep and haptic touch to get your attention. Hopefully you would also have enough time to raise your watch near your ear to hear the message.

Another cause of missed messages might also be that you are occupied and you can’t pay attention to the voice message right now.

The Solution

The solution comes in the form of user experience re-design around storing initial messages.

Here is the current Flow

The new flow changes how a receiving Apple Watch handles an incoming messages. When the user has not been using Walkie Talkie for a while (say 1 minute), we can say the user is probably inactive.

When inactive, Walkie Talkie messages that come in are not played but stored. The user could press the play button. This implicitly requires the user to pay attention and also give permission for the audio to play.

Once the user has played or replied, the Walkie Talkie is now in active mode and all incoming walkie talkie is instantly played.


This explicit interaction when the user is inactive on their walkie talkie solves all the 3 problems above.

Problem 1: You need to accept before someone can talk to you, thereby limiting the spontaneity

You don’t have to accept invitation. Just dismiss their Walkie Talkie if you don’t want to talk to them

Problem 2: Having to manage whom can Walkie Talkie you

There is no need for a concept of Walkie Talkie buddies. Instead of a list of buddies, it will be the recent list of people you have talked to. You won’t have to manage your buddies and the recent list is probably more useful as these are the people you talkie often.

Problem 3: If you were not paying attention, you probably will not hear the message content

By having to press play when you are inactive, the message is right there waiting for you when you are ready to hear it.

Once you had replied to a Walkie Talkie, your Walkie talkie will be set to active mode and conversations happen in real time.

Conclusion

It was great that Apple took a shine to Walkie Talkie. Our experience tells us that walkie talkie is useful for short conversations especially for people moving around. Although we see that the user experience could be better, it still great because Apple is helping us to convince people that Walkie Talkie is a part of today’s communication tool.

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