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.
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.
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.
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:
And that makes it all worth it.