FaceTime in iOS 15


FaceTime helps customers easily connect with those who matter most and with iOS 15, conversations with friends and family feel even more natural. With spatial audio, voices in a FaceTime call sound as if they are coming from where the person is positioned on the screen, and new microphone modes separate the user’s voice from background noise. Inspired by the stunning portrait photos taken on iPhone, Portrait mode is now available for FaceTime and designed specifically for video calls, so users can blur their background and put themselves in focus. While using Group FaceTime, a new grid view enables participants to see more faces at the same time.

Users can now share experiences with SharePlay while connecting with friends on FaceTime, including listening to songs together with Apple Music, watching a TV show or movie from Apple TV+ and other streaming services in sync, or sharing their screen to view apps together. SharePlay works across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and with shared playback controls, anyone in a SharePlay session can play, pause, or jump ahead.

FaceTime calls also extend beyond Apple devices with the ability to create a link from iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and share it through Messages, Calendar, Mail, or third-party apps, so anyone can join a FaceTime call from their web browser on Android and Windows devices. FaceTime calls on the web remain end-to-end encrypted, so privacy is not compromised.

It is incredibly tempting to glibly pass off many of these new FaceTime additions as features targeting an era that (we all hope, at least) has passed, and Apple is late to the game. I’m pretty sure I tweeted a joke to that effect on keynote day. On reflection, though, it is an unfair view.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams have dominated mindshare recently because of the surge in popularity of group video chats in 2020, but FaceTime is a huge player when it comes to video calls in general, because it is incredibly popular for personal one-on-one calls. Maybe the biggest actually.

Save for grid view which is specific to mass group chats, all of these new iOS 15 features will be beneficial to the friendships and relationships forged over FaceTime calls that take place every single day, in their millions. Rather than painting it all with a pandemic brush, I now note that many of these features were actually requested and in demand years ago … well before anyone had heard of COVID-19. Screen sharing will make FaceTime family tech support so much better. The underlying intents of screen sharing and SharePlay go all the way back to iChat AV from macOS Tiger, but they never made the leap to FaceTime until now. I guess we have the pandemic to thank for motivating Apple to move these features higher up the internal to-do list.

Maybe some friend will get together on Group FaceTime because of SharePlay. Still niche though.

The ability to join FaceTime calls via web links (including Android and PC support) is clearly Apple’s half-hearted attempt to battle Zoom and Microsoft Teams in the remote work and school videoconferencing space. I doubt it will get much traction. Products like Teams have all sorts of components to help people collaborate on projects, and arrange group meetings. FaceTime has none of that stuff. FaceTime is more like an add-on of Messages, competing against WhatsApp and traditional phone calls if anything. You also see this in how each service handles identity; Zoom and Teams have abstracted user accounts, whereas on FaceTime you connect by sharing your personal phone number or email address — information that you only want to give out to close friends.