One of the more brilliant features included with the iPhone 4, and now the iPhone 4S, is something Apple calls FaceTime. It’s a video chat service that is dead simple to setup and use. For other iPhone users, it uses your phone number to identify you (no additional account needed) and for other Macs and iOS devices, it uses your ubiquitous Apple ID or email address to identify you. It works like a phone, so there are no screen names (a la Skype or AIM) to remember or setup.
This past week, I received a call from my next-door neighbor and friend, Kendall, who is a food rep. He was traveling to Charleston to present a new line of meats to a restaurant but the other food rep who would be working with him would need to drive over 8 hours from Florida in order to join the meeting. Instead, he asked what would be involved in having him video chat for the meeting. Kendall is not a Mac or iPhone owner, but I told him about Skype and that we’d need to buy a web cam for his laptop. Then it dawned on me, tell him about FaceTime.
Our family has had a lot of experience, this year, with FaceTime. Either my wife or I both have been traveling for work almost every month this year. Many times, due to my wife’s job change in February, we have not been able to afford the time off to travel together, and so one of us would be home with our daughter while the other traveled. FaceTime has enabled us to talk while we’re in hotels and traveling and see each other. It has performed as well as all the Apple ads have portrayed it and really, it is a feature I would really, really miss if I lost it today. It has let me and my wife talk with our girl about her day, let her tell us her stories and let us tuck her in at night before bed. My wife was able to read the nightly bedtime story, just like she were at home (especially since my daughter has a few favorite books and my wife has memorized those).
As I relayed this story to Kendall, I could hear his enthusiasm grow. “Philip, you might be on to something there,” he said. And surely, we were. So, I offered to lend him our family iPad and work with him to get everything setup. We added a set of external speakers to make the audio louder, because were concerned that the restaurant might be noisy during the meeting. The only other step was to add a contact for his associate, and we were all set. (As a failback, we also setup Skype, just in case, but it was not needed).
Kendall’s business associate had an iPad and one quick phone conversation had him we were testing FaceTime from home. Kendall traveled to Charleston as planned and tested everything from the restaurant the night before and it performed great.
On the day of the meeting, the restaurant staff gathered around for the presentation. Kendall setup the iPad and started the FaceTime call with his his iOS enabled business associate. And the presentation began. There were few thoughts about the underlying technology that enabled it because it just worked. The only issue of the day was that some of the staff could not see the remote associate well on the iPad screen depending on their angle, but they could hear him and he could see everything going on there. And the ability to see what was going on in the room made the presentation go off fantastic. Kendall was the arms and legs for the presentation, able to talk to and cater to the staff while his associate spoke and watched remotely. All of this enabled by two 1lb. gadgets that are easily transportable and WiFi in the hotel and restaurant.
Certainly, this isn’t an Apple only ability. Skype and other video chat applications could do the same and pre-date FaceTime, but with so many iOS devices and Macs in the world, the ability to have a platform like FaceTime that just works is a huge advantage for customers. Skype will run on PC’s and other tablets and lots of devices, so it has its advantages, too, certainly. But, one of the biggest for FaceTime is that it is dead simple to use and that goes a long way with less technically inclined folks.
Up next for FaceTime – a birthday party… I just sent off an email to my in-laws who will not be able to make it to my daughter’s birthday party this year, but I hope that they will attend using FaceTime. They have recently made the Apple transition with iPhones and Macs, so we will try to let them join us virtually, wish their grand-daughter a happy birthday, and even watch live as she opens her present from them… Those miles between us just shrank to nothing, and that is a huge accomplishment.