Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, there’s one app out there that keeps testing the sanity of video conferencing enthusiasts–FaceTime.
As each year brings with it a new iOS update to improve Apple’s flagship iPhone and iPad devices, we hope that with it will come a group video chat function within FaceTime that will lift it out of its one-on-one-only restriction. Each year the rumors swirl that this time it will happen for sure. Sometimes the rumors get so specific we’re certain they’re true–like last year’s iOS 11 that was supposed to expand video calling from two to five people.
And each year we’re disappointed.
But, as the tech world gets ready for iOS 12 to drop mid-year, we find ourselves reading the same rumors about bringing FaceTime into video calling relevance, and again we’re asking–will FaceTime get group chat?
It seems so obvious an improvement it would be crazy not to finally introduce it this year. Or, perhaps after years of asking the same question and expecting a different answer, we’re the ones who are crazy.
Will FaceTime Get Group Chat?
iOS 12 is the next big step in the evolution of the iPhone and iPad. It is expected to be unveiled at the 2018 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, which begins June 4–although users won’t get the free update until around September. The operating system is the backbone of Apple’s mobile products, and this year’s update is expected to concentrate on backend corrections to the troubles introduced by iOS 11–troubles that included poor touchscreen sensitivity, bugs in Siri and iMessage, and incidents of the iPhone crashing and rebooting by itself.
While such behind-the-scenes fixes are welcome, they don’t scream innovation and excitement. Worryingly, a concerted effort to correct iOS 11 doesn’t sound like prime grounds for Apple to finally introduce group calling to FaceTime, either.
In fact, in their recent preview of iOS 12, MacWorld described the introduction of multi-user FaceTime calls only as “possible.” Now, “possible” is the exact sentiment that has been driving us crazy for these past few years. Obviously, it’s “possible” to include group video calls–just about every other messaging and video calling app on the planet already has the feature.
Apple has more at stake here than just disappointing video callers. If FaceTime again fails to embrace multi-party video calls, the platform could become an afterthought at a time when video conferencing is becoming a key feature of social media apps. And social media is not a market you want to abandon.
FaceTime: Apple’s Simple, Featureless Service
FaceTime is the embodiment of Apple’s unique take on sharing within a digital world–it creates desirability by remaining separate. It operates only on iOS, at a time when even Google apps can be downloaded across the Android/iOS divide. It doesn’t connect well with the major social media apps such as Facebook. You can’t make video calls between iOS and Android phones. It doesn’t offer any screen or file sharing.
As we described in our review of FaceTime, that isolationism won’t bother you if you’re unaware of what is on offer elsewhere, or you’re 70 years old and just want an easy way to see your grandchildren every once in a while. The service is clear and reliable, and most importantly, its status as a default inclusion on the iPhone makes it a simple fallback for those looking for a quick video chat. There are even some groovy emojis and masks to throw into the mix.
For an innovative company like Apple, however, the service is remarkably featureless. Being restricted to one-on-one calling does help keep things simple, but it has been eight years since Skype introduced free group video chat for up to 10 people, so it’s safe to say users are ready for a change.
Some, like us at VC Daily, demand it.
Group Video Calling Is the New Basic Standard
Apple is the only member of the Big 5 tech companies not to have evolved its video conferencing offerings over the past two years. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all moved to make their video apps more social media and business-friendly, and Amazon has entered the market for the first time with its standalone video calling platform–read our Amazon Chime review here.
Video calling has also become a staple of the big messaging apps. WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger all let users make a video call for free, and in the case of Messenger they can do so with groups of up to 50 people.
The business world is going visual as well. Since the runaway success of Slack, workplace collaboration apps have risen to prominence in offices across the country, and each features instant group video calls as standard.
Apple is absent from all these fields. It needs to radically and significantly improve FaceTime, its only significant video app, in order to stay relevant. The majority of video calling apps now run on iOS, so there’s no point in thinking it has the iPhone space to itself. That improvement must begin with the iOS 12 update and the introduction of group video chat. Another year of false rumors and wasted opportunities might just drive us all insane.