When is Apple going to pay FaceTime the attention it deserves?

By , Dec 16, 2016

iPad Air Facetime

The other day I overheard a woman at the coffee shop spiritedly conversing on FaceTime with what I can only presume was her mother. The topic of discussion had been the daughter’s holiday trip, and her mom said something that struck a chord with me: why can’t you show me the photos on here? This got me thinking (at which point I stopped listening in, promised). Since its inception, FaceTime has received dreadfully little attention from Apple. The introduction of FaceTime Audio aside, the service practically makes for an absolute freeze-up in an otherwise constantly forward moving software environment.

As consumers, we have become used to companies spending more resources and time on pet projects of theirs and conversely less on comparably idle services, but what is astonishing is that this analogy does not explain the ongoing neglect of FaceTime. Because for all its faults and plainness, FaceTime is tremendously popular. For reasons only known to the Cupertino giant however, it does barely show in the application’s development. To add insult to injury, the lackluster state is likely to persist for yet another year until the next big software update for iOS rolls in. Never mind the fact this means forever in industry years, but it’s even worse because FaceTime is already adrift of the competition.

With that said, it is time for Apple to start play catch-up and resuscitate the service. Since the coffee shop encounter, I have been mulling over how Apple could ramp up the offering realistically in the near future. Here is what I believe is feasible and crucial for FaceTime to implement within the next year:

When it comes to Apple, traditionally a brief glance back at previous years serves as a reliable indicator of what lies ahead for the company. Time and time again they have proven to be quite habitual and there is no evidence that leads me to believe it would be different in the case of FaceTime. If we revisit the latest discernible changes for FaceTime (Picture in picture in iOS 9, FaceTime Audio in iOS 7), it is sensible to believe that any game-changing feature for the service would be held back until iOS 11. Which is not to say that there is no chance of a slightly less significant update gracing us before autumn of next year.

In fact, tradition dictates that between March and June (iOS 8.4 and Apple Music or iOS 9.3 and Night Shift), a point three or point four update is going to drop, bringing along all sorts of new goodies for our devices. So let’s size up these two potential updates in 2017 and place emphasis on what they ought to deliver in order to make FaceTime a more immersive and customizable experience.

iOS 10.4

ios7 slide keynote facetime audio

Starting it off chronologically, we will operate on the assumption that iOS 10.4 is going to be the software update to introduce a host of new features and refinements to the existing applications in early 2017. Provided FaceTime is one of those apps finally receiving some love, no more than three (timely) practicable additions would suffice to put the service back on the right track: manually selecting video quality, the introduction of Facebook-like live stickers (sorry in advance) and enhanced Handoff capabilities.

Video quality is a non-issue to some, but for people either living with poor Wi-Fi or FaceTiming on data plans, it is a big deal. Many video streaming services offer a little lever to adjust the video output quality, ranging from ‘Best Available’ (which is what FaceTime does) to higher Mb/s and lower Kb/s rates. As a frequent user of FaceTime, I would appreciate a setting like that on my screen, as I can recall countless scenarios where I refrained from video calling a friend or relative on the road simply because it eats up your data so fast. If I could throttle the data artificially by restraining the streaming quality, that would be pretty exciting. I would also imagine that in many instances selecting a lower streaming rate would actually smoothen a stuttering but otherwise crisp video call.

This one is quite divisive but with iOS 10, Apple has gone all in on iMessage gimmicks (like it or not) – so why stop now? Particularly for the younger segments of users, one or two buttons to trigger on-screen effects during the video chat (think Facebook’s or Periscope’s live video stickers) would certainly make the product a whole lot more enticing. I’m not completely put off by colorful hearts or other icons swamping the screen and it would be a complementary outlet to also express yourself non-verbally.

Handoff and Continuity are great concepts, no question about it, but they do not live up to their promise in places where it’s needed most. When I take a FaceTime call on the way home on my iPhone and walk into the apartment, where is my option to transfer the call to my couch iPad? You would think the feature was already in place considering how Handoff has been showered with praise by Apple – but it is not.

iOS 11

ipad iphone ios9 facetime promo

Now, anyone can dream up far-fetched fantasies for an upgrade that is still such a long way off. What’s more important than that is to marry the fancy with the needful, and what Apple needs to do urgently is address the blatant shortcomings and clear competitive gap between FaceTime and the likes of Skype or Google Hangouts. Thusly, the two most significant (and reasonable) changes I would like to see materialize with iOS 11 are group video chat functionality and the ability to display photos stored locally on your device inside the chat.

There’s a reason the lion’s share of businesses use Skype. And that is for the simple but compelling fact that the application is superior in facilitating and handling multiple callers in one session. FaceTime is painfully late to the party (they haven’t even shown up, to run with the metaphor) and many of us have clamored for group chat functionality long before iOS 10, 9 or even 8 was unveiled. If not finally realized in iOS 11, Apple have seriously gotten their priorities wrong on this one.

To round off the coffee shop anecdote, being able to show your chat partner photos from your device would be such an intuitive way to enrich a conversation. And it makes perfect sense. FaceTime is a visual medium, its entire backbone is the notion that people like to receive visual stimuli when we talk. In other words, when I call my parents to catch up on their recent Hawaii holiday, isn’t it terribly counterintuitive that they have to send photos for viewing through an external app such as iMessage? The service would enormously benefit from an on-screen button that links to your photo library, from where any photo touched would be mirrored (= sent temporarily) to the receiver’s device.

And just like that we have come to the end of my list. Some of these items I would call predictions, some of them wishes. What’s certain is that the year ahead will show if Apple are sensitive to their users with regard to FaceTime and willing to appreciably up the ante. They certainly need to act soon if they don’t want to irreversibly lose more users and businesses to the competition.

Have anything to add to my list? Comment below!

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  • Dilir Daiyan Aranna

    Nah ,I like FaceTime because of its Simplicity.
    Adding all these might clutter it up.Only thing I would want is to use less data.But thats not Apple like ,is it?

    • gqukyo

      Um, just adding another small button for those of us who would like to configure it wouldn’t kill ya or anyone else who wants “simplicity”… lol

      • Dilir Daiyan Aranna

        Just look at other VOIP apps UI, they are cluttered.

  • Judge

    I agree I wish that apple paid more attention to Facetime. I have an iphone ipad and Apple TV. PLEASE apple update facetime so that I can use my huge 55 inch tv I am tired of using facetime in portrait mode on apple tv when landscape would fill my screen nicely. This has got to be a simple tweak

    • Riley Freeman

      since your tv has no camera, how would this really work?

  • Tony Trenkle Jr.

    Maybe 10.3? considering that hasn’t even had a beta yet. Assuming you meant 10.3 anyway and said 10.4

    • Steffen Reich

      yeah, it’s really more a placeholder. Only Apple knows if 10.3 or 10.4 will come as the bigger mid-cycle update, traditionally it’s one of the two. I picked 4 because in recent years I found x.4 to be a tad more meaningful.

      • Tony Trenkle Jr.

        Well they never had a 9.4 last year. Last time was 8.4 I believe. And if its gonna be in January, .3 sounds more realistic

  • Mike M. Powell

    App(s) protection via touchID, can we focus on this than any other. As well as control center. For instance if you can lock you toggles, for most cases if someone steals your phone they’ll usually slap it into airplane mode.

    P.S: i miss Asphelia (jb security tweak, if i spelt right)

    • Diego Milano

      I thought there were other tweaks out there that could do what Asphaleia does, but A3tweaks is the worst at updating their tweaks (luckily enough Apex has been one of their exceptions).

      • Mike M. Powell

        It felt polished (at the time) whilst almost native with the latest updates in the past incorporating touchID and the UI was perfect at the time. And yeh there were others that got better like Ryan’s Approach and another guy? (BioProtect / BioLockdown)

      • Diego Milano

        Totally! It did feel somewhat native, hands down.

    • Riley Freeman

      i agree. in an age where we all know people have private photos, being able to lock apps either with passcode or touchID, this is long overdue

  • Agneev Mukherjee

    Steffen Reich, the deep thinker.

    • Steffen Reich

      touche!

  • Rowan09

    I think Apple placed it on the back burner due to data limits, but I agree it needs a makeover along with the phone app.

    • Diego Milano

      That doesn’t seem to cut if you’re on a wireless network though.

      • Rowan09

        That’s true but I’m just giving my opinion on the hesitation. They do need to improve it because everything else pretty much especially messages stepped up big time.

  • Ricky Williams

    I think the patent troll suing them over the technology FaceTime uses might have something to do with that along with the neglect of the plan to make it open. How does it get updated, maybe if lawmakers got their butt in gear and banished patent trolls we could all have lots of nice things.

  • n0ahcruz3

    Conference call would be nice.. ala skype.

    • Diego Milano

      YES! Bring it on! I told others about this in the past, I mean it’s so basic to have multi-party video calls or even just audio.

      • n0ahcruz3

        FaceTime for me is like a necessity same for imessage.. it’s one of the reasons i dont leave iOS lol to bad they dont add any new features or refinements.

  • Miqdad

    Agreed. Same with iCloud Drive – Miles behind

  • jailbreaker99

    Thanks for the post a real nice read.
    I agree I think that FaceTime needs to get a nice overhaul the 3 biggest features, in my opinion, that Apple needs to add to FaceTime are video conference (even if you’re only allowed to add up to 5 people), more control over the video quality (as mentioned in the post.) , and lastly I would like to be able to screen share. Screen sharing is my favorite feature I would like to see added in the near future. But video quality is probably the most needed. (In my opinion)

    • Steffen Reich

      cheers mate!

  • CAIO MARIZ®

    FaceTime freezes every time I open it on my MacBook Pro Retina 15 late 2013…
    When I open FaceTime, It saturates my quad core i7 CPU and my 8 GB of RAM.
    To solve the problem I have to force quit the program.
    I can’t call anyone, i can’t respond to anyone, I can’t go in FaceTime preferences…
    What can I do? I reported the issue to Apple every time
    Please help me, I don’t want to reset my Mac for such a stupid thing
    All other programs and macOS work perfectly

  • Ds

    screw FaceTime. When is Apple going to give proper attention to 3rd party keyboard!!

    • Diego Milano

      It’s funny, so as I read through all the posts (or most of them), I see others saying similar things except they request attention to OTHER aspects of iOS. In the end, either that tells us iOS has a lot to improve in multiple aspects or people are just dissatisfied overall with iOS as a whole.

      • Ds

        I very rarely ever use FaceTime so I could honestly care less if it ever gets updated. I do use 3rd party keyboards a lot as a beta tester for Nintype. There are so many things wrong with iOS 3rd party keyboard system that it’s ultimately making any progress to prevent pop up issues or other keyboard related glitches/issues impossible to fix. It’s not that the developer can’t fix. He knows what issues need to be fixed, but he literally cannot fix it because the issue is on Apples end. Honestly for me my overall experience with iOS is fairly decent. I think iOS is very well built but there are a lot of aspects to it that need greatly improved.

      • Diego Milano

        Same here, I literally never used FaceTime but I’ve helped others in the family test it and they do use it somewhat often recently. But following the same trend, even Siri could be much greatly improved, even though they’ve already done so. I bought NinType myself and in my opinion is the best third-party keyboard available in the market (expensive but worth it!), but… I stopped using it and instead I rely on iOS keyboard plus jailbreak tweaks (eg., SwipeSelection, Swipe Expander, DeleteCut, etc.) but that’s just personal preference, really.
        I agree, iOS is in my opinion great for many reasons; I mean lets get real about one thing folks: everything -and I mean, everything- can always be improved, that’s a universal reality we will all have to digest. I for one am happy with iOS overall, but following this truth, I rely on the jailbreak to make it even greater, but that doesn’t mean I would label iOS negatively, I think it’s great.

      • Anonymouse

        I think both.

  • Diego Milano

    The truth is I could never make a FaceTime call and replicate the quality of the images they depict during their marketing show-offs, in which case I would assume it’s just purely that (marketing). I do agree that of all the services (including WhatsApp, Messenger, and Skype) I’ve tried for video call, FaceTime offered the best quality.

    • Rowan09

      I use FaceTime audio when I travel to other countries since I have t-mobile data pretty much all over the world. I rarely if ever use video conferencing unless I need to make a quick call to your wife about something I need to pick up.

      • Diego Milano

        You mean YOUR wife.

      • Rowan09

        Lol yes my wife fixed.

      • Anonymouse

        So you only make a quick video call to your wife when something needs picking up. Did you ever consider how this may/would be interpreted as? I’m picking myself up off the floor as I fell off my bed reading this. LOL

      • Rowan09

        Lol. Now that you say it yes. Like if I’m going to the store or supermarket.

  • 5723alex .

    When everyone is using the cross-platform Whatsapp video why invest in closed OS FaceTime ?

    • Rowan09

      Pretty much. I prefer it this way because it promotes competition.

  • ChloeWade

    Lol I have 1TB LTE allowance I always put the video quality on max

    • Anonymouse

      I have unlimited data but everyone I know won’t use facetime especially girls as they have to have their makeup on perfect and hair done before taking a call. Men don’t care as much.

  • Don’t know if I’m being “the pessimist” right here but FaceTime feels useless now that WhatsApp has calls and video calls.

    In my opinion, Apple missed the point again releasing FaceTime, iMessage and all those stuffs as a feature of the iPhone and not as a cross platform service.

    And the same goes for the Apple Watch that works only on iPhones, and all the other Apple devices that can be married only with an apple accessorie.

    They’re still targeting only on the iPhone owners where they could get a lot of users from android and windows if the smart watch works on these other OSs.

  • Riley Freeman

    i have never needed to use group video chat between skype or oovoo or whatever else is out there but it should be added. they also need to add a facetime app to windows desktop. If you really want this to take off, restricting it to macs only doesnt allow you to overtake skype etc..

  • John doe

    facetime for 4G (or 5G) apple TV Add a off the shelf Logitech Webcam (they have a new 4K cam) much like Polycom did with the trio