Life with FaceTime offers a glimpse into what it must be like for the teacher of a gifted but underachieving student. The potential is there, the opportunities are plenty, but there’s just no way to shake off the lethargy and get the student interested in moving from being a B student to being an A+ one.
FaceTime has been with us since the iPhone 4, and as far as users are concerned the only changes that have been made were to make it even easier to use. It’s a good example of the Steve Jobs approach; take an existing technology, bundle it with a bunch of others in a way no one has seen before and make it simple, simple, simple.
Which is fine if you’re happy to skate through as a B+ student. What’s frustrating is there’s so much potential in FaceTime, and so strong an audience already using it, we should be getting more out of it by now.
But no, we still don’t have even basic features like group video calls or calls to Android users. There’s little hope for immediate change either. Not even the latest iOS update offers any glimmer of expansion.
Yes, FaceTime Is the Easiest Way to Video Call
FaceTime’s enduring appeal is its ease of use. If you own a recent model iPhone you already have it, as it comes free with the device. If you want to video call someone you don’t even need to enter any sort of app portal, you simply click on the FaceTime icon that pops up in your phone’s directory next to any contact on a compatible phone or Mac. It’s as simple as making a regular phone call, or sending a text message.
It’s so simple Stevie Wonder uses it.
It’s so simple my septuagenarian mother-in-law uses it to answer video calls from her grandchildren. I doubt she’s ever heard the term “video conference” but all she has to do to make a social one is pick up on the ringtone and press the right button.
It’s so simple Google recently took a step back from all the interconnected work and group calling of Hangouts and introduce the stripped down Duo video calling app as a means of making straightforward one-to-one video calls.
Behind that simple interface lies a reliable service that performs well over mobile and wifi connections, and is even courteous enough to let you know exactly how much of your download limit you’ve gobbled up during a video call.
My quibble isn’t with what FaceTime does. It’s with what FaceTime doesn’t do.
Group Video Chat Across Devices Is Now Standard
FaceTime was born into a time when Skype was the main competition, and it has run rings around that competition in terms of usability ever since. But times have changed. Now, even messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger have video calling, and they offer a lot more features at the cost of opening an app rather than just opening your address book.
I understand Apple wants to keep things simple–it’s a mantra that has made it the most valuable brand on the planet, by a big margin–but what if I want to call someone on an Android phone? What if I want to video call two people at the same time?
Those are two very simple requests by today’s video calling app standards. I can appreciate the decision to avoid trendy masks, games, and open chat rooms, but group calling across devices is just too stark an omission. Google Duo is available on iOS now, and Skype will communicate with just about any device, so even the industry old-timers are ahead of Apple.
Those are just the most glaring drawbacks. There are other missed opportunities of a more advanced nature. Not that the new iOS update was any help in filling the features gaps.
An Exciting iOS Update Has Nothing for FaceTime
Apple will release the iOS 11 update for iPhone later this year, but the new features are already public. Most of the good news surrounds the camera and photo functions, with better editing, storage, filters, and high dynamic range among the promised upgrades. There are also improvements coming for Siri, the Apple Pay service, and the user interface, as well as a new driving mode.
However, the only mention FaceTime gets is the introduction of a button to capture live photos during a video chat. That’s not a bad feature, but you could kind of already do it with a screen capture, although without the clarity the new function should bring.
What’s disappointing is that the rumors that flew around earlier in the year about FaceTime adding group calling for up to 5 people under iOS 11 have proved false. So it’s another iteration alongside an underachiever that lacks group video calls, or recorded video calls, file sharing, VR capabilities, or any other major advance. It’s a good thing FaceTime is so easy to use, because there are far better-equipped video calling apps out on the App Store to tempt users who want a little (a lot?) more from their smartphone.
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