A few days ago, I bravely admitted to my colleagues that I rely on an Android tablet for my daily work. “Nadeem, has anyone told you about PCs,” one of my editors replied. “Good god, man, who hurt you?” remarked another senior editor. They’re not wrong, while I remain as shameless as ever in my experimental preference for work machines.
The “Android ecosystem” — I know, it’s a stretch to use that term — has a well-known consistency and cohesiveness problem. Apple, on the other hand, keeps fortifying its ecosystem with such intricate interplay between devices that once you’re locked in, there’s an extremely high functional barrier to make an exit. The walled garden, baby!
With the release of its latest iOS 17 and watchOS 10 releases, Apple is trying to raise the barrier even higher with FaceTime at the center of it all. Specifically, the ability to watch video voice mails straight on my watch. This is a new perk that needs iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, both of which are now out as a public beta and will be released widely in the coming months.
One of those sweet surprises
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On my side of the planet, WhatsApp is the king for video calls. FaceTime, well, it’s a luxury iPhone owners enjoy, just like iMessage. But there’s no green versus blue bubble war here. As such, the overwhelming reliance on these communication pipelines is minimal compared to the U.S.
But there’s one feature in watchOS 10 that caught my attention while combing through the release notes. “If someone leaves you a recorded video message on FaceTime, you can view it directly on your Apple Watch,” says Apple. It’s pretty self-explanatory what it does, but witnessing it in action makes you really think how far smartwatches have truly come.
The process is fairly simple. If you couldn’t attend a FaceTime call, iOS 17 lets the caller record a video message, just like an audio recording that lands in your voicemail. Now, if you have an Apple Watch on your wrist, you will see the missed call alert and the video message, too.
Tap on it, and you will see what the caller intended to say or show you. The phone app on your Apple Watch will keep the video message neatly saved in the Voice Mail section. Just make sure that you look for people around you before you hit the play button.
The Apple Watch’s tiny screen doesn’t offer much legibility to the person sitting a few feet away, but the sound might just end up publicly broadcasting some personal details of your life to a room full of strangers. Thankfully, I learned the lesson in a rather funny fashion, as the first FaceTime video message I played on my Apple Watch had a kid whining at the top of her lungs, drawing some weird looks from a couple sitting next to me. Lesson learned!
Ever since, I’ve kept my AirPods Pro paired with the Apple Watch so that I don’t draw any more attention from fellow cafe dwellers or disturb someone’s moment of zen. But personally, I find it extremely convenient that I don’t have to pull my phone out of my pocket to check my voicemails.
Distraction? Or maybe, a savior?
I have a love-hate relationship with my phone. On one hand, I have to keep an eye on all the social notifications, especially Twitter, to follow the breaking news cycle. Then, there are communication apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams that get me through a day of work. For someone who is part of a news desk, there’s no skirting around for me.
But with it also comes the barrage of junk notifications — from the bajillion memes friends send in Instagram DMs to family banter in WhatsApp groups. Every time my phone’s screen lights up or I feel the familiar vibration on the table, I instinctively reach out for my phone to check it. And no sooner that happens, I usually end up lost in a maze of notification banners and idle internet surfing.
Having a watch on my wrist serves as a potent deterrent.
Having a watch on my wrist serves as a potent deterrent. As I glide my hands across a keyboard, a quick glance at the lit-up screen tells me what notification it is, and urgent, I don’t interact. Or at least I try my best. But who am I kidding? It’s a losing battle.
The final resort is creating a Focus mode to effectively mute all the notifications. Once enabled, I set my phone aside, and the Apple Watch becomes an extension of my iPhone. I usually wait an hour or 40 minutes to unlock the Apple Watch, scroll past the banner of notifications, and get back to work.
Call alerts happen to be one of those filtered notifications. Thankfully, with the arrival of watchOS 10 and iOS 17’s video message feature, I can already see myself checking out my voice and video calls messages without having to reach out to my phone and getting lost in a barrage of alluring notifications.
It certainly helps that I can revert to voice calls straight from my Apple Watch. To further sweeten the deal, watchOS 10 is also adding support for group voice calls, further shrinking the rationale for picking up your iPhone when the watch can handle your communication needs without condemning you to the smartphone distraction hell. I can already see a lot of people using this feature in the coming months as the next major iOS and watchOS updates roll out.
Yes, there’s a cost to it all
As convenient as it sounds, you need to be deeply invested in the Apple hardware ecosystem for any of this to work. In my case, I have AirPods Pro in my ear, an Apple Watch Series 7 draped around my wrist, an iPhone 14 Pro, and an iPad Pro on my desk. All of it is tied to my Apple account, but achieving that cross-device harmony cost me over $3,000.
Of course, depending on the specific Apple device in your inventory, the final cost be even more — or less — for you. But let’s just arrive at a median value of $2,000 and broach the question: Is that amount worth the convenience of watching missed FaceTime video messages on a watch? Hell no!
The only sane argument would be the typical “sum of its parts” argument. Splurging that handsome amount on a bunch of Apple devices also brings a few dozen perks that you would otherwise miss out on.
Of course, it helps that Apple’s hardware is top-notch, the software is rewarding, and everything works in seamless functional harmony. Being able to watch video messages for missed FaceTime calls on right on your wrist is just a fresh cherry on top, among a bunch of other fruits that Apple serves each year with major OS updates.
It’s ironic that we all chase that dream Apple hardware ecosystem, but the seamless syncing also means you get all the notifications delivered across all your devices at the same time. I see the alert on my phone and iPad or Mac. My Apple Watch shows the same call alert. And my AirPods blast the notification into my ears. It’s too much.
But with a little help from Focus modes and watchOS 10’s cool new trick, I am a tad less overwhelmed with the flood of synced notifications. For now, I am just extremely happy that my pricey watch is saving me from the “distraction monster” that is my iPhone.