Apple engineer explains how FaceTime came out of work done for Game Center

WWDC 2010 keynote (iPhone 4, FaceTime 002)

When Apple was unveiling a new video-calling capability on the then new iPhone 4 at the WWDC 2010 keynote, Steve Jobs presented the feature as one of his famous ‘one more thing’ moments.

FaceTime debuted as a hassle-free video calling service between iPhone 4 devices and was initially Wi-Fi-only, but Apple eventually rolled it out across the lineup so it’s available across Mac, iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices on both Wi-Fi and cellular.

The engineer behind the feature, Roberto Garcia, was forced to spill the beans on how FaceTime came out of work done for Game Center in his testimony during the fourth week of the second Apple vs. Samsung trial in California, here are the juiciest bits…

The origins of FaceTime can be traced back to a 2007 software prototype Garcia created to connect his phone to his Mac to make voice calls.

“The next year, he and other engineers were able to decode a video frame from a Mac on a phone,” CNET reported.

Because, in his own words, “in 2008 it became clear that the iPhone was a great gaming platform,” he was tasked with a project called Game Kit that would let devs implement multiplayer features and voice chat in their iPhone games.

Game Kit in 2009 became Game Center so Garcia implemented multi-party voice chat that would provide a solid foundation for the FaceTime project, codenamed Venice, because “code writing for Game Center turned out to be really useful for FaceTime.”

Garcia and four other engineers spent essentially all of their time on the project, and various other teams worked on pieces related to the technology.

Apple’s core audio team did the audio backend, dealing with the microphone and speaker, Garcia said. The video codec team also was involved, as was the application team, “which draws pretty buttons and things like that,” he said.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Not to bother you with boring legal stuff, I’ll just point out that Samsung has accused Apple of infringing its video-transfer patent with FaceTime.

WWDC 2010 keynote (iPhone 4, FaceTime 004)

It’s interesting that FaceTime is comprised of “at least tens of thousands of lines of code” and that Steve Jobs didn’t like early prototypes because it involved a too complex setup procedure so the CEO demanded that FaceTime work right out of the box.

It’s also telling how Apple from the onset wanted to ensure that FaceTime didn’t record or save any videos to protect user privacy and address security concerns.

“I don’t want my video calls recorded by anybody or seen by anyone, so I and everyone on my team took security and privacy very seriously,” Garcia said.

Below is a FaceTime segment from Steve’s keynote, via AppleKeynotes on YouTube.

It features Jobs and Ive and includes a memorable jab at the audience members, mostly bloggers, who were degrading the quality of an on-stage FaceTime call by causing network congestion by refusing to turn their Mi-Fi devices off at Steve’s request.

I like how Steve referred to Ive as “one of my best friends in the whole world.”

Based on a bunch of open standards, FaceTime was meant to become interoperable with other voice calling platforms such as Skype.

WWDC 2010 keynote (iPhone 4, FaceTime 003)
An unfulfilled promise: FaceTime as an open industry standard.

“We’re gonna take it all the way,” Jobs quipped during the keynote. “We’re going to the standards bodies, starting tomorrow, and we’re gonna make FaceTime an open industry standard.”

Unfortunately – and for reasons largely unbeknown (at least to us) – FaceTime has remained to date exclusive to Apple device, which is a shame, really.

Do you like FaceTime, how often do you use the feature and would you say that it has changed the way we communicate?