We all have a hidden Dick Tracy inside, wanting to make video calls from our watches just to prove we can, or because we don’t want to carry our phones with us every single place we go. Now, thanks to Wristcam, we can all have a camera for Apple Watch … and achieve phone freedom.
Plus, of course, video calls from our wrists.
“Wristcam … morphs your Apple Watch into a dual HD camera,” Wristcam CEO Ari Roisman told me recently on the TechFirst podcast. “You’ve got a self-facing camera for quick, candid selfies and for live video chat. And then you’ve got a world-facing camera that captures 4K photo, 1080p video, and … it’s pretty cool.”
All that tech, plus a battery, is jammed into a strap for your Apple Watch. And more, says co-founder Matt Frischer:
“There’s a ton of amazingness packed under the hood of this device: self-contained battery, outward-facing sensor, self-facing sensor, two mics, LEDs that actually will light up as you’re capturing ’cause we are very mindful as people are out in the world with body-worn cameras that we don’t introduce any uncomfort for other folks …”
And it is pretty cool.
Wristcam was announced in December of 2020 and is now a real, live shipping thing. The company shipped me a sample to test, but thousands of customers have already bought them, Roisman says. Which is good news: so many prototypes don’t actually materialize, but this one is built with former Apple and other leading tech company engineers. It’s real, it’s slick, it’s packaged like jewelry from Tiffany’s in a decidedly up-market metal box, and it takes decent photos.
Don’t plan on entering any photography contests, though.
The company is not trying to compete with “top-shelf iPhone camera quality,” Roisman says. That’s basically DSLR level now. Rather, it’s about capturing something for a memory that otherwise you might miss and forget.
In other words: go landscape, not macro.
For example, this works, even if my subject matter is less than inspiring:
This, however, does not. As you can see, the background is in focus while the centered foreground object, a flower, is decidedly not.
As you might expect from a team with a former Apple engineer, the embedding into the entire Apple Watch experience is impressive:
“The hands-free control is really cool,” Roisman says. “We support Siri commands, so you can start and stop a video with Siri. You can summon the app with Siri just with your voice.”
Listen to our conversation on the TechFirst podcast:
And yes, there’s a physical button so that when surfing or diving or cycling, you can find it without having to mess around with touchscreen-invoked apps or Siri. After all, Siri might not hear you in a noisy environment, and underwater all bets are off.
The live video works to other people with Wristcams and Apple Watches, no other technology required as long as you have connectivity via WiFi or LTE, and to iPhones. That’s impressive, and with voice control where possible, not too challenging to pull off.
According to Roisman, this is just the beginning.
“We’re in the early stages of this,” he told me. “The App Store native to Apple Watch, like the App Store actually on the Apple watch is a new thing. There’s still a limited number of pixels on the Apple Watch, although there are more pixels on the latest generation Apple Watch than there were on the original iPhone. I think it’s only a matter of time until developers really embrace and appreciate how valuable this emerging wearable screen is, because it’s the most accessible, and I think with time will emerge to be the highest touch point for consumers engaging with software.”
Wristcam worked well for me, aside from the close-ups. The battery does run down quickly, especially when you take video, and while the strap is comfortable, expect some challenges with long jacket sleeves that are tighter. I had difficulty wearing it when putting on boxing gloves for a workout, for instance.
But generally, it’s unnoticeable until you need it. At which point you press the button, ask Siri to make the magic happen, or laboriously check through the apps on your Apple Watch to find the right tiny icon.
And then you’re taking pictures … with your watch. Later you can access them on the companion iPhone app and share or save them wherever you wish.
So would I buy one?
At $300 it’s not cheap. And while the pictures work for a memory, they’re not amazing. In other words, don’t plan on using them for Instagram. It is fairly simple, it is fairly handy, and it does allow you to leave the phone at home.
“We’re not trying to compete with top-shelf iPhone camera quality,” Roisman says. “I mean, the iPhone has really become a DSLR equivalent. But we have been able to pack a lot of camera quality and capability into a really small form factor that I think is quite practical, and our users are pleased with. And it captures HD video out of both cameras, and I’m able to just capture things I would otherwise miss.”
I get it. There’s a valid use case there.
But do I really want to leave my phone at home, is the question. My phone is a computer from which I can run my life. It’s communication and computation, connection and research, fun and hard-working. And today’s phones — unless you’re rocking a fablet — are pretty pocketable. (I use the iPhone 11 Pro as a daily driver, and have a ZTE Axon 5G for an Android testbed.)
Part of the thrill of going amazing places is having amazing memories to share, and I can’t see myself doing that with poorer quality images.
That said, if you’re not a must-share-everything-now person, this might be perfect for the memory. Especially, of course, given that it represents one fewer tether to civilization, the 9-to-5, and everyone who wants a piece of you.
As tempting as that sounds.