Microsoft Teams Adds A 'Walkie Talkie' Mode With A Dedicated Push-To-Talk Button

Microsoft Teams, Walkie Talkie

The vintage way of communicating through the distance, is using a two-way radio. Clearly outdated, but the way it works is still useful even in the days of internet.

Back in the years, when speech could only be delivered through the radio, it required a device to transmit and receive the radio waves. A walkie-talkie is one of those devices, which put together an audio (sound) transceiver, a transmitter and receiver in one unit. The device is popular for bidirectional person-to-person voice communication with other users with similar radios.

This kind of communication is then used for people who are not together, but need to keep in continuous voice communication.

Examples include aircraft pilots and air traffic controllers, ship captains and harbormasters, emergency services personnel like firefighters, police officers, and ambulance paramedics, taxi and delivery services, soldiers and military units, fast food and warehouse employees, and more.

What makes this communication method unique is that, it uses push-to-talk, which is plain and straightforward.

Pushing the button turns off the receiver and turns on the transmitter; and when the button is released, the receiver is activated again

For this reason, if a person wants to deliver a message without needing the recipient to ever respond, a PTT is clearly a winner.

Microsoft Teams has this kind of feature it calls the 'Walkie Talkie' mode.

What it does, is allowing users to turn their smartphones or tablets into a walkie-talkie that works over cellular data or Wi-Fi.

It was originally announced back in 2020, and was available mostly in preview ever since. This time, Microsoft said that it's available for all users on Android, iOS/iPadOS, as well as on Zebra mobile devices.

Before the feature is made public, Microsoft primarily pitched this this Walkie Talkie mode for frontline workers, or those employees who work customer-facing and run day-to-day operations inside companies.

Microsoft knows that PTT can be particularly useful for employees who have helped steer the world through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The company claims that it can replace the need for carrying bulky radios and offers a secure line of communication through Wi-Fi or cellular internet connectivity.

The feature was limited, and it's only after Microsoft's partnership with Zebra Technologies that the tech giant is launching the feature to the public, complete with a dedicated push-to-talk button for quick and secure communications.

"With this partnership, we’re excited to be able to provide frontline workers with the ability to use these devices to seamlessly communicate, collaborate, and stay productive in any conditions," said Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Zebra Technologies in a blog post.

Pushing the button will allow users to record snippets of audio, which can then be sent and received by the recipient.

According to its documentation, the Walkie Talkie in Teams "provides instant push-to-talk (PTT) communication for your team and is now available on Android & iOS. Walkie Talkie allows users to connect with their team using the same underlying channels they're members of. Only users who connect to Walkie Talkie in a channel become participants and can communicate with each other using push-to-talk, one at a time."

Microsoft Teams, Zebra, PTT
Credit: Microsoft

It's worth noting that at the moment of introduction, Microsoft Teams' Walkie Talkie feature is not pre-installed.

"To enable this feature for users in your organization, you need to add Walkie Talkie to the App Setup Policy assigned to users from the Teams Admin Center. Once enabled, Walkie Talkie will become available on the app within 48 hours," Microsoft said.

Walkie-talkie features are still rare in communications apps.

But some apps do have this feature. WhatsApp for example, allows users to record short audio and send it to others. Slack also has a similar feature, when it launched its Discord-like Huddles feature last year to users drop in and out of calls easily.

Even Apple had its own walkie-talkie feature on the Apple Watch in 2018, using push-to-talk over a FaceTime Audio call.