The Pros and Cons of FaceTime

I went on a business trip out of the country recently, and before I left I checked with AT&T to find out what my international phone rates were looking like. Once I regained consciousness, I told my family that I would get ahold of them with FaceTime anytime I needed to talk.

And that’s what I did, but after using it for a bit it became … awkward. But why? Let’s talk it out after the break.

Getting Prepared

Since FaceTime is available on OS X and iOS, I had two different options for using the software on the road: my MacBook Pro, and my iPhone 4. Almost immediately I noticed the same thing you’ve noticed if you’ve used the app, which is that talking requires you to get prepared.

Now for me, a guy who really could care less about his outward appearance, this was still a factor. You have to take a quick peek in the mirror before you start in case there’s some potentially embarrassing issue that your friend might see, like something in your teeth or your hair is a mess. I’m obviously comfortable with my wife, but she even caught herself primping before our talks, just because of human nature. The visual aspect of it all takes out the spontaneity of a phone call for at least some people.

Playback Issues

No matter how strong your connection is, if you’re running on wireless, chances are pretty good you’ll have some playback issues. My connection at my house — where my wife was most of the time — is the second highest option offered by my ISP, and averages something like 5 Mbps up and 30 Mbps down. Every so often though, the screen would freeze on us, and the audio would dip in and out. Sure, this was most likely because of the download speeds at my hotel, but it sure was frustrating.

Then there’s the viewing problem itself. I chose to use my MacBook for my FaceTime use, because it kept the camera stable at all times. My father, however, uses his iPhone and because he needs to see the screen, tilts it back so he can look down at it. This gives me a clear shot up his nose, which, although funny, doesn’t help.

And then everyone I’ve talked to on it shakes their hand or doesn’t pay attention to the camera, causing motion sickness on my end. Since our arms are the tripods, things aren’t going to be stable by nature. I’ve never done FaceTime with someone on an iPad 2, but I’ve got to wonder if that’s better or worse.

The Flip Side

Taken from another perspective, FaceTime is Apple’s answer to Skype, and with Facebook and Microsoft now buying into that technology, it seems video calling is here to stay. And even though we had technical issues and some problems along the way, FaceTime still saved me from sending cash to AT&T.

Plus, this is a very big issue for Apple. My theory for a long time now (and it’s one shared by many people smarter than me) is that Apple is working towards a carrier-free iPhone. FaceTime was the first step, now we’ve got iMessage coming later this year in iOS 5. Once countries get a Wi-Fi infrastructure in place, there’s a good chance that Apple could ditch the carriers altogether.

Summary

I know lots of people who have an iPhone 4, iPad 2 or a Mac with FaceTime, and there are very few of them who use FaceTime on a regular basis. The last time one of them did call me using FaceTime, they were walking down the street while talking to me and all I could see was the top of his head and sky. Not only was it annoying, it was nauseating.

But I do use FaceTime more often than I expected when it first came out, because I wanted to show my folks or my wife something cool that our new baby was doing. My parents saw my son laugh for the first time, kick his legs and roll over in the crib all from miles away because of FaceTime. Even though I don’t use it every day or consider it the best app available, the fact that I have it has changed the way we interact with our son.

The funny thing is, my boy is just 17 months old, and he often grabs the iPhone so he can look at it. He looks at phones first, he doesn’t put them to his ear like I do. He will never know a time when there wasn’t video calling, and maybe someday, we’ll all use FaceTime or something similar instead of making voice only calls. That could be his future.

At the end of the day though, with all of its annoyances and all of the social implications of the app, it helped me a lot. Because when I was sitting in a hotel room thousands of miles from home and just missing my son, I was able to do this:

FaceTime successful

FaceTime successful

And that makes it all worth it.


  • http://www.Intrafusion.co.uk Colin Shipton

    Surely the biggest problem with FaceTime at present is down to the fact you can only call between Apple products, there are too many users without Apple products to make this viable.

    Skype already works on a lot of platforms including Mac, iPhone, Android etc. which makes it far superior

  • U.N. Owen

    It boggles my mind – the minutae some people go on and babble about.

    ‘Preparing’ your appearance – to use FaceTime…..

    I got a recommendation. It’s either FREE, or, pretty damm close, and doesn’t involve ‘preparing.’

    Use GOOGLE VOICE.

    It’s free to use in the states, or get an account. And TALK.

    If you have enough time to OBSESS about looking up your dad’s nose, or how your kid plays with the iPhone (DON’T LET HIM GRAB IT, idiot!) – or Apple’s future business plans, GET A LIFE!!!!

    Either it DOESN’T involve you, or it DOESN’T have ANY bearing on you CURRENTLY.

    You’re NOT some male model, and, if the people you’re video-chatting with are as obsessed about your appearance as you are…. great people you deal with!!!

  • U.N. Owen

    One other thing, Kevin Whipps:

    I’ve OWNED/USED Macs since the LISA was around.

    A ‘professional’ write since ’99? Takes pictures… of cars…..

    Right.

    Sounds just like the person you SHOULDN’T listen to for Apple/Mac ‘advice/’

    Your just one of the many bodies, that – given a computer, keyboard all of the sudden they’re an ‘expert.’

    You’re NOT.

    Stick to taking pics of your cars. I KNOW you know much more than I ever will (or care to) about that.

    • J.D.

      He’s an angry elf.

    • LOL chill out dude

      *You’re

  • Cmd

    Dude, not enough people checking out your FaceBook albums that you have to pimp your own baby out at Appstorm? In a ‘professional’ article nonetheless?

    Know when to keep your personal **** separate.

    • J.D.

      Ummm… he was making a point, which is what writers do in a professional article. In fact, without making a point, articles are typically useless.

      And in case you’re wonder what his point was; it’s that no matter what faults Facetime may have, at least it gives him the ability to see his loved ones while he’s away.

  • http://www.moosedesign.com MooseDesign

    Wow, lots of needless over-the-top rage here…

    anyway, I feel like Apple needs to update us on the status of the “open API” for Facetime that was to be released, what, almost a year ago? The availability of which would certainly go some ways towards helping bridge the gap between various platforms if devs had the tools to institute Facetime video at the client level. As it stands, its hard to get people to switch away from Skype just because of its ubiquity/platform agnosticism, but give us free group video chat and platform independence and I think you could realistically erode Skype’s base. I will be curious if Google+’s group video chat feature will become a case study for exactly that… Also, as ridiculous as it sounds, .99 for the OS X FaceTime app is likely an additional, unwanted barrier to adoption when so many free options abound. Still feels like a “hobby”.

  • JAG

    Dang…what’s with all the hostility? The article made it’s point. Facetime works, is not perfect, and saved money. Sure, Skype is an alternative for video chat and Google Voice is another way to get a call through VOIP but geez, people, chill.

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  • iMarvin

    I have an 1mbps broadband network…. It still works fine :D

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