iOS 7 brought Facetime Audio to iPhone and a slew of little changes to contacts, favorites and a new “FaceTime” icon. In all the commentary no one has analyzed how Apple is actually encouraging the rapid adoption of FaceTime Audio. Remember when iMessage came along. We soon learned that the “blue” send was a free iMessage. With telephone numbers that trick is a little more subtle and may take another year depending on the response. Before iOS 7 came along the only way to access FaceTime was through your phone favorites, recent calls, and contact list. Let’s look at the details.
FaceTime icon: iOS 7 now adds a FaceTime icon (like we’d seen on iOS 6 on iPad) to the iPhone, so if you hadn’t used FaceTime before here’s a little encouragement to try it out. Frankly, my first response was to wonder why I needed it. Why is it there? First up it enables you to choose a contact and then choose audio or video in a simplified fashion. (I am surprised that it doesn’t eliminate “non-registered” FaceTime contacts from my list or provide it as a group sort option.) The other reason may be the “favorites”. The FaceTime App enables you to choose those favorites for FaceTime calls and they are then saved as audio or video. Simply click to connect.
Phone Favorites: Well this is either by plan or by error. I added my favorite FaceTime calls to the iPhone FaceTime App. Example Family members. Later I went to Phone favorites and found they were doubled up. Well now I had a listing for my son twice, one for Facetime and once for his mobile phone number. That felt like total duplication and it’s forced. If you use the FaceTime App and add favorites they will end up in your Phone favorites. Which in my case doubled the number of entries in my Phone favorites. Sub-optimal as we will see.
Contacts: Note the subtle change in the contact layout and the positioning of FaceTime. It is no longer a tab at the bottom. It is easily seen that a contact for which you may only have an email is now available for both iMessage and FaceTime as long as that user has registered the email you are looking at for FaceTime. If that is the case the “FaceTime” line will appear above any other contact details.
So what to do? What change in behavior do we want? What makes sense?
1. Escalation Audio to Video. In the old model I could call someone on their mobile number and then if available we could start a FaceTime call after a delay. In the new model I can call them on FaceTime audio and then if appropriate escalate to FaceTime video. That escalation using FT Audio to Video will now no-longer delay the call “connecting” and can easily be declined and back to audio. BTW: It’s not always appropriate and in fact may not be desirable to initiate a FaceTime Video call without some sense of the other parties context. For example if my car is traveling at 70mph and I get a FaceTime call will the speed and motion mean that it is limited to audio only even if Video is requested? (I’ve not tested this, or tested re making an outbound call – Note in the past I have both launched and held a FaceTime call with Siri while on the move.) I’m not sure how to answer a FaceTime Video call as Audio only. This suggests Apple would like you to adopt “audio” and escalate. Separately, some other reports say it is FT Audio is WiFi only. This wasn’t true in my tests on AT&T.
2. Revamping Phone Favorites: Seems there are a few choices. I did the obvious. I simply deleted my old mobile phone number favorites and replaced them with FaceTime Audio. All those FaceTime Video contacts I had in my phone favorites I changed to FaceTime Audio. Why? It’s simple. Sound quality is better. I’ll monitor usage over Cellular over time. (Note, under settings/cellular you can now see which apps are using how much bandwidth. I do know that FaceTime Video can eat into a data quota if you have one.)
3. Using Siri: It’s still a little clumsy. I have to say “FaceTime Audio – Contact Name” to launch a Siri started FaceTime Audio call. I’d prefer to have that as a default option rather than FaceTime being interpreted as Video.
In my case the net result is FaceTime Audio just became the default for many of my favorite calls. (I’m still waiting for some of my contacts to upgrade to iOS 7 to make it work. I also presume FaceTime Audio will come with the OSX Mavericks update.) I’m remain disappointed I can’t just find a setting that says “Default Calls to FaceTime Audio – where available). Then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. However, that is probably a carrier negotiation issue. Right now the FaceTime App simply does what many others have before, including, Skype, Viber, Tango, etc.
FaceTime Audio joins iMessage as another reason to sign on with the Apple camp and get an iPhone or iPad device, and then never to depart again. It’s a little odd to see it arrive so much later than FaceTime’s video calling feature, but the reversal of feature rollout makes a lot of sense ; audio-only calls are uncomfortably close to standard phone calls, which is still one of the sole remaining areas that carriers control. via FaceTime Audio Is Apple’s Biggest Little Feature Addition In iOS 7 | TechCrunch.
Enterprise: How secure is FaceTime Audio/Video? Will enterprises prefer to default to such a service for all calls? If so with the right support it is going to become a strong selling point. For example all calls between registered employee phones are “secure”. Perhaps there are other ways this feature can be used in the Enterprise. Yes I know about NSA concerns! Apple is also not transparent on security
Customer Service: What happens when a company can quickly read that the email you provided the purchase with is also your FaceTime contact? (This could also affect which emails we use for purchases) How could this be used for iMessage confirmations, or complaint handling? No company in their right mind would have used FaceTime Video to call a customer out of the blue. Will audio change any of this? Could it ch.ange call centers and how they are set up?
Giving Up The Phone: Maybe not quite yet. Still worldwide you can now buy an LTE/3G supported iPad with a data plan and start making both FaceTime Audio and Video Calls (3mb/min approx for video). Both Skype-In and GoogleVoice provide an example of where this could go. If Apple were to provide an inbound number for my AppleID then I’m one step closer to just needing only a data plan. For travel that would be a lot more convenient than adding a funny foreign number. There remain many vested interests in SIM cards. Another way for some leverage to emerge is to provide a dual-sim iPhone (not that likely). Will my unlocked iPhone even run on a data only card?
For iOS users FaceTime Audio and Video will manage an increasing number of communications. The next utility/functionality step is a video/voice conference calling capability. Currently the only free video conference calls that work well are Google Hangouts. Skype only provides this as a paid or premium option.
I’ve been following FaceTime for awhile:
- How Important is FaceTime? Do You Need a FaceTime Strategy? July 2010
- FaceTime: VoIP Product of the Year Dec 2010
- Video Conferencing and the Dinosaurs? May 2012