FaceTime for Mac: Video Calling Simplified

The iPhone 4 was released this past June, and with that came a major iOS release. This new hardware and software presented some new possibilities and thus some new applications. The added front-facing camera was begging to be used in a video calling situation and Apple – being the innovators that they are – created FaceTime to utilize this new functionality.

A limiting factor for FaceTime was the fact that it was only functional for calling another iPhone 4 (or the latest iteration of the iPod touch). Last October, Apple released a beta version of FaceTime for Mac, utilising the iSight camera built into most of their notebook and desktop computers.

FaceTime for Mac recently hit the Mac App Store as a full 1.0 release, and today we’ll be taking the final version for a spin!

Overview

iChat is the current proprietary video calling application for the Mac. The future of iChat is somewhat under debate as it does still have some other non-video features, but it appears as though FaceTime will be the de-facto video calling application for the Mac and Apple devices going forward.

Apple is pushing video calling via mobile devices now (especially with the recently updated iPad 2) and bridging that gap between mobile and desktop just makes sense. The FaceTime for Mac application is the link that makes it all possible, bringing the simplicity of FaceTime video calling to the desktop.

Setup

FaceTime can be downloaded from the App Store, and the setup process is as simple as entering your email address (which other people will use to call you). You will need to verify the email address you select, and this can be done right from the FaceTime interface. It is possible to add multiple email addresses that others can call. Each, however, will need to be verified.

FaceTime setup

FaceTime setup

From starting the download to completing the setup process, I’d say it took all of about five minutes to get the application ready to make or receive a call. Needless to say, it is quite simple to get FaceTime going.

Address Book

I’ll talk a little more about this shortly, but it should be noted that the Mac Address Book is where FaceTime looks for your contacts. If that is your primary address book tool, then you’re all set. If you’re like me and use something like Google Contacts, little intervention is required.

Luckily there is an option to sync the Address Book with Google Contacts so that was a really quick fix for me. If you’re using something that isn’t sync-able with Address Book you may be stuck doing some manual entry.

Interface

In true Apple form, the interface of FaceTime is extremely clean and simple. It is very reminiscent of an iPhone or iPad application.

The feature set really isn’t that large, so the interface has a minimalist feel almost by necessity. It is a pretty barebones type application so there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to clutter up the interface.

Functionality

As I mentioned, FaceTime is a pretty basic application. It has essentially one function and that is video calling. Some users will long for more fancy features you may expect in an application such as this, but you will not find any of them here.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By stripping out all of the non-essentials, Apple has built a very quick and simple to use video calling application. From my testing it fit my needs perfectly and I didn’t need to waste any time trying to figure out how to do something I didn’t really need anyway. It is designed for video calling and it does it very well.

This is a new application, and to use it you do need to have another FaceTime user on the other end – so testing was a bit of a problem for me. Believe it or not, I don’t have a ton of friends that are Mac users (I know…terrible isn’t it?). I thought the best way to get the real feel for FaceTime would be to take you through a scenario of a call with a friend of mine.

Making a Call

Making is call is very simple. You’re able to make a call to another Mac that is also using FaceTime or you could also call an iPhone or iPod as well as long as they are also using FaceTime. When you first open FaceTime, you’ll see a window with a video of your camera along with your contact list.

FaceTime starting view

FaceTime starting view

I want to call my friend Dan’s iPhone, so I’ll scan through the contact listing to find his name. As I mentioned earlier, this contact listing is pulled directly from Address Book. Edits made to the contact list in either application will be immediately reflected in the other.

To call an iPhone you do need to call the phone number of the iPhone (email will not work). A FaceTime call to an iPhone number will initiate a video call.

FaceTime contact view

FaceTime contact view

Dan will be notified that he is receiving a FaceTime call from me, with the option to accept or decline the call. He answers and the FaceTime call begins.

FaceTime in a call

FaceTime in a call

The call will default to portrait mode. You’ll see a window showing the incoming video with a picture-in-picture view of yourself or what your camera is showing. It has a very similar feel to a QuickTime X video window.

When you hover over the video window, you’ll see the controls that are available to you and – as I said earlier – there aren’t very many. You’ll have the ability to end the call, mute your microphone, change the view mode (portrait or landscape), or expand the video to full screen.

FaceTime landscape view on desktop

FaceTime landscape view on desktop

Above is an image of what the call looks like just sitting on my desktop in landscape view. I should also point out that if the iPhone’s orientation is changed the video orientation seen on the Mac changes as well. The window can be resized or can be taken all the way to full screen.

The quality of the call was excellent for us, but as with any video conferencing this will largely depend on your Internet connection. The cameras are perfectly capable of producing high quality video, so the potential problem area will be your network connection.

Receiving a Call

Now we’ll look at this scenario in reverse. This time Dan would like to make a call to me from his iPhone. He can pull up his address book and view my contact information. He’ll see a camera icon next to the email addresses I have verified for FaceTime.

He initiates a call to one of those, and the FaceTime call request has been sent. I’ll receive a notification on my desktop with the ability to accept or decline the call just like he did on his iPhone. In fact, it looks a lot like what you would see on the iPhone.

FaceTime incoming call

FaceTime incoming call

FaceTime doesn’t need to be running for someone to call you. Once you have the application installed, someone can make a call to you. Of course, you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. It makes your Mac function kind of like a telephone. People can call whenever, answer if you’d like.

This is a big difference from the iChat video calling feature. For a call to be initiated, the iChat client needs to be running. Not the case here. This is a different feature, but very welcome. It simplifies the application and the process just a bit more.

With the iPhone, Dan is able to toggle between the view from each camera on his phone. He can switch between the front-facing or rear-facing camera with the press of one button. The same feature would be available on the iPad 2 as well.

I underestimated how cool this feature would be. Actually seeing it work in person is quite something. I’ve done a lot of video conferencing and this really adds an entire new element to the experience. This is an exciting feature that is only possible because of the interconnectedness of FaceTime with mobile devices and the Mac.

FaceTime iPhone rear-facing camera view

FaceTime iPhone rear-facing camera view

Conclusion

Overall, I think the experience of FaceTime is excellent and I find it especially exciting for two reasons. First, is the fact that it feels less like an application and more like just an added feature of OS X. iChat definitely feels like an application, but FaceTime is so unobtrusive it just blends right in. Even when you’re using it it feels this way. Some may not like the minimalistic feel, but that was something I really ended up enjoying.

Secondly, the fact that FaceTime can be used on mobile devices along with the Mac is really a fantastic thing. This article is focusing more on the Mac side of FaceTime, but looking at the concept as a whole, incorporating mobile devices with their multiple cameras really brings about some exciting communication possibilities.

The real big limiting factor, that actually is no different from iChat, is that you’re only able to call other FaceTime devices. For those of us that do need to make video calls to non-Mac users sometimes we will still need to rely on some third party video calling software.

But as more and more people purchase new iPhones, iPads and iPods and install FaceTime for Mac the ecosystem grows and we’ll have more people that we can call. FaceTime versions for other platforms would be very exciting, but any news in that category is just a rumor at this point so we’ll have to wait and see what happens on that front.

FaceTime will come installed on all of the latest compatible Apple hardware and the upcoming version of Mac OS, but those of us with older Macs need to pick up a copy of FaceTime from the App Store for $0.99.

I know there has been some griping about having to pay for this application at all, but let’s be honest, $0.99 isn’t going to break the bank. I’m not exactly sure what Apple had in mind for charging that amount, but whatever the case I don’t think its a huge deal and to be quite honest, it is completely worth it!


Summary

Apple's official video calling app for the Mac, now out of beta and better than ever!

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  • http://www.pobox.com/~meta/ mathew

    “The real big limiting factor, that actually is no different from iChat, is that you’re only able to call other FaceTime devices.”

    Except iChat works with AOL IM video chat on Windows.

    “But as more and more people purchase new iPhones, iPads and iPods and install FaceTime for Mac the ecosystem grows and we’ll have more people that we can call.”

    I don’t want the iOS ecosystem to grow. I want it to die in a fire.

    • Alex

      You seem to be on the wrong website, sir.

  • http://johnsardine.com/ João Sardinha

    I tested this with a friend, it’s very nice, the quaity is very good. You drag your face and it will change position, and if you want audio only, just minimize the application and the other person will see a message that your camera is paused, very usefull.

    • Vopat

      Very useful tip. Seems like that should have been included in the review.

  • insane.dreamer

    Unfortunately only works to call to/from an iPhone connected to a wifi network, not over 3G. That’s limiting enough for me to continue using Skype with my gf (which works over 3G). (Yeah, you can jbreak the iPhone to get it work, but my gf is on the other side of the world and doesn’t know how to do that.)

  • http://13strokes.com Shibi Kannan

    Facetime is excellent but the problem is you need two separate accounts if you want to use it on both your mac and iPhone or else people wont know where to call. It would be nice if it works for same account but notifies the caller whether you are on mac or iPhone or iPod or iPad.

  • http://joylenenowellbutler joylene

    Facetime worked the first time we installed it, but it hasn’t worked since. I call my son on the phone, then online. He can hear the phone ringing on my end, but he doesn’t see anything on his monitor. Help!

  • Mello-D

    I have FaceTime on my MacBook Pro 13. The problem I have is that I have several hundred address book contacts and there doesn’t seem to be anyway for FaceTime to sort through them and tell me who is using FaceTime already. Therefore I don’t know who I can or can’t video chat with via FaceTime without calling or emailing each contact first and asking them. Who has time for that?

  • Ronnie09

    I half read half skimmed through this and didn’t find or missed the part where it spoke about having multiple people in a conversation. Is that possible? I know of a third party program that does it, and I can see the other two people, yet they can’t see each other. I basically want a family reunion on a face chat service. Can anyone help?

  • SWIMMAT

    Hey the thing is that my friends mom setup her stuff on my account and now i cant change it to what i want mine to be what do i do???

  • Felicia Mac

    Hi,

    It;s happened a few times where I’ve accidentally hit the Facetime after sending a message. What does the other person recieve on their phone?
    Will they receive the few seconds of footage that was recorded?

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