How FaceTime Can Be Improved

Apple introduced FaceTime on June 7, 2010, and released it with the iPhone 4 later that month. Later that year, Apple announced a Mac version of the service, but put it in beta and the final version was released in February 2011. People didn’t know what to think of this new way to communicate. Video chat was nice, yes, but most people use Skype, so what was the purpose of Apple’s own solution? To connect all Apple users with video chat, apparently.

The aim of FaceTime seems too simple, too limited. There wasn’t a lot of hype surrounding its launch because most people didn’t see themselves using it on a daily basis. What was this service lacking and what could it benefit from gaining? A few suggestions are available after the break.

Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

Why FaceTime Needs More Features

"There can only be one."

“There can only be one.”

If Apple is to do anything with FaceTime — not just let it slowly die like Ping — it will want to compete with the other services out there. Skype, for instance, is the largest Voice-over-Internet Protocol service on the Internet. It was purchased by Microsoft, Apple’s chief competitor in traditional desktop and laptop computers, last year, and has been integrated into Facebook, which already integrates with Microsoft’s Bing services.

On the other hand, there’s Google, Apple’s rival in the mobile market. The search engine has its own social network, Google+, and it offers “Hangouts”, voice or video chat sessions that support more than two people at once, recording, YouTube playback, and much more for free. While Apple has nothing close to this, nor even anything that close to Skype, both Google+ and Skype work great on iOS devices and Macs.

So, if Apple does want to keep or attract users in this area, it should be developing FaceTime, and absolutely shouldn’t be putting it on the back burner. To do that, here’s some of the features it needs:

Multi-User FaceTime

Google Hangouts (left) and FaceTime (right).

Google Hangouts (left) and FaceTime (right).

Many people transitioned to Google+ for one simple reason: it had free video chatting with more than two participants. Skype allows free voice chatting with as many people as you want, but video conference calls cost money. If Apple took the initiative and picked up this market, users would be pleased. Instead of talking with one family member, they could see them all and actually “hang out”, as Google would put it.

Keeping things one-to-one is limiting the amount of true users. People don’t want to use the service if it lacks features that another has, especially if they need those features. Businesspeople once used WebEx for conference calls, but now they’re transitioning to Skype. Since many have Apple devices already, the company could gain a lot of enterprise users by offering a solution of its own, even if it starts off as a paid service.

Voice and Text Chat, Not Just Video

The biggest problem with FaceTime is its focus. As the name implies, this app lets you talk face-to-face with a person. Sometimes, however, people want to just talk, not video chat because it’s more bandwidth-consuming or distracting. It’s understandable, and yes, people do still speak to one another with a telephone. Google offers voice chatting, as does Skype, so why not Apple as well? Right now, the company offers no way to simply voice chat using its own services.

Another method of communication popular with most Internet users is text chat. It all began with this, and many people still enjoy instant messaging with Facebook or text messaging with a traditional phone. Right now, the only OS X app that offers this service is Messages. This is great since it’s Apple’s own way of instant messaging across its devices. However, there’s no way to connect the two, FaceTime and Messages, to make a more complete service.

Full Messages Integration

The solution to Apple’s problem is to fully integrate FaceTime into Messages, or the other way around. Separately, these apps aren’t doing the end user any good. They perform very similar functions, yet an extra space is wasted in Launchpad. Messages already has a video chat feature for users of AIM and Google Chat, but nothing that can be used to communicate with other Mac or iOS users. There isn’t even a shortcut to FaceTime.

Apple's Messages promo image.

Apple’s Messages promo image.

Full integration of FaceTime into Messages would include text chat via iMessage, video chat via FaceTime, and hopefully voice-only chat using FaceTime’s servers as well. A screen sharing option would also be great since both Skype and Google+ offer it. There are also other features like recording, quality, and more options for the app overall. FaceTime has a lot of room to grow.

Find Friends with Facebook and Twitter

Connecting a Facebook account to Mountain Lion.

Connecting a Facebook account to Mountain Lion.

Last, but not least, is social participation. Apple recently added Twitter to OS X, followed by Facebook in the late summer. The OS can use these both a lot more than it does right now, starting with FaceTime. What if you have a lot of friends who you want to connect with on Facebook or Twitter? To FaceTime them, you have to add their email address or iPhone number to your contacts list. Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to use a social network instead?

Run Everywhere

Then, there’s the 900 pound elephant in the room: Skype is cross platform, Google+ works from any browser, and FaceTime is only on iOS and OS X. Sure, Apple’s devices are selling better than ever, but most of us still have plenty of friends, family, and colleagues that use PCs, Android devices, and more. FaceTime will have the best chance of really becoming a standard if it runs on Windows, at least, and if it was on Android as well, it’d have a much better shot at being the next Skype. Apple’s made iTunes and Quicktime for Windows for years, so there’s at least some precedent for making FaceTime a cross platform product.

What Else?

Now that you’ve read my thoughts on what FaceTime could use in the future, it’s time for your input. What do you think the service needs in order to survive? What would some cool features be, even if they aren’t that big of a deal to most people? Let us know in the comments and spark a discussion about the issue.