The $US300 ($385) Wristcam is a futuristic Apple Watch accessory that asks the question: What if you put a camera on your smartwatch? When we first heard about it, it seemed like the band was teetering on the edge between genius and ridiculousness. The same can be said of Wristcam’s latest feature: live video messaging.
As I watched a demo of the feature with Wristcam cofounder and CEO Ari Roisman, he emphasised that one of the main hurdles standing in the way of your smartwatch replacing your phone is the lack of a camera. Sure, you can text, make calls, and receive notifications on the wrist, but if you want to send a video message or FaceTime your mum, you need your phone for that. Another pesky problem is that the Apple Watch is locked within Apple’s ecosystem. Even if the Apple Watch had cameras built-in, you wouldn’t be able to video chat across platforms. (We’ll get the ability to FaceTime with friends and family on Android and PC once iOS 15 drops, but it’s not likely that functionality will come to watchOS without a native camera.)
So it was wild to watch Roisman and fellow cofounder Matt Frischer chat across both their wrists and phones in real-time. It felt like watching a scene out of Star Trek or a James Bond flick. Still, demos are demos. They’re supposed to be mind-boggling displays. Sometimes, it isn’t quite as cool when you actually get to try it. But for the last few days, I’ve been tinkering around with a beta version of the feature on my Apple Watch, and while it’s a little rough, it’s also an impressive proof of concept.
The new feature adds an extra screen to the Wristcam’s Apple Watch app, and introduces a separate Messenger app for your phone. From the wrist, you can record live videos that then get sent to your friends in the Messenger app. But that’s the thing. You need people to download a Messenger app for a smartwatch band they probably don’t have. If your friends are like mine, that might be a challenge.
To test the feature, I sent invites from the Messenger app to my husband and best friend. My husband ignored it, has continued to ignore it, and will probably ignore it until the end of time. My best friend is used to being my guinea pig for stuff like this, so she graciously accepted my invite. Walking her through the process of adding me, however, was difficult, because her patience only went so far and she doesn’t have an Apple Watch. That said, Frischer was patient enough to help me over Zoom to test the other aspects (and as a cofounder, he definitely has a Wristcam).
You can start a live video from the wrist by swiping left twice, and selecting a contact to send the video to. From there you can send a roughly 20-second video message that can either be viewed from the wrist of another Wristcam owner or from your phone. You can also record and view videos from the app itself, so you don’t need your friends or family to have one of these bands to partake. (Though it’s definitely cooler when messaging another Wristcam user.)
I have to say, the video quality from the wrist was surprisingly clear. Granted, it’s not as crystal clear as if you were using a 1080p webcam, but it’s pretty dang good for an Apple Watch screen. As Frischer helped me test over Zoom, I could also see we were getting messages across the country in real-time with minimal delay. It’s not quite the same thing as video conferencing, however. It’s more akin to sending short video messages back and forth — which frankly is easier than texting from a smartwatch. It’s not perfect — messages can take a bit to load and upload on the wrist. I was using an Apple Watch SE and without an always-on display, you can end up with a blank screen before your 20-second video finishes recording. (It doesn’t stop recording when the screen goes blank, however.)
I was limited to selfie video messages, but Frischer says the ability to switch cameras will be available starting today. That’s cool, because you can then take videos of your surroundings if you were to go running without your phone. As for whether people will actually do that? Right now, my friends might roll their eyes but I can see gadget nerds and early adopters getting hyped.
The Wristcam is still one of those devices that’s a little early compared to where the rest of the market is. No flagship smartwatch right now has native cameras built in — though apparently, Facebook is planning to make a smartwatch with two cameras. So while this feature is cool and the Apple Watch is the most popular wearable, Wristcam’s $US300 ($385) price tag still makes this a niche accessory with a limited reach at this moment in time. Still, I have no doubt that one day Apple might try and crib Wristcam’s work. Having tried this particular feature, I can see how smartwatches could one day be truly standalone gadgets.