By Dan Moren
January 29, 2015 7:42 AM PT
Wish List: Multiparty FaceTime video
Enough of last week’s negativity—for the moment, anyway—and let’s turn once again towards the aspirational. Last night, five of my friends and I defeated the Atheon in Destiny’s Vault of Glass raid; it was a suitably epic undertaking, hampered only by the fact that the voice chat on the Xbox 360 still sucks after all these years. So we turned instead to a Google Hangout, which unquestionably provided both better quality and more reliability.1
But this got me thinking. In the book I recently co-authored with pal Jeff Carlson, we discuss keeping in touch with your family via video chat. While Apple’s FaceTime is great for one-on-one interactions, it doesn’t support multiparty video chats. So if you have many farflung friends or family who want to chat, you have to look elsewhere: Google Hangouts work pretty well, and Skype has begun to offer its formerly pay-only multiparty video chats to everybody (though it’s not currently available on every platform). Those are just two of the most popular options; there are plenty of others. But it’s one ring into which Apple hasn’t yet thrown its hat.
Interestingly enough, FaceTime Audio does allow for multiparty connections, though it’s a little bit hidden.2 And Mac users might remember that earlier versions of iChat (now Messages) actually had support for up to four people in a video chat; it was surprisingly high-quality and easy-to-use for the time. Still, it’d be great to see Apple bring the same simplicity and ease-of-use3 to multiparty video chats that it has to the one-on-one model.
I still prefer FaceTime for one-on-one conversations; in fact, I used it just yesterday, and this morning a friend suggested we FaceTime each other as we shovel out our respective cars. But anything more than that, whether it be a podcast, D&D session, or Destiny raid, means turning to the oft-finicky process of setting up a Hangout or Skype call. (Getting people’s contact info, inviting them, sending out URLs, and so on.)
Of course, not all of my friends and family are iOS users, so it would also help immensely if FaceTime was indeed an open standard…but that’s another kettle of fish entirely.
I can’t tell if this is purely anecdotal, but in my experience Xbox Live voice chat on the 360 has gotten worse and worse. We frequently get situations where people say things that just don’t come through. Or where only part of a sentence comes through. Which gets annoying fast: “Why’d you do that?!” “You said to!” “I said don’t do that!” ↩
You have to start a FaceTime Audio call, then tap the Add Call button and choose someone else to conference in. It’s an interface that was amazingly easy when the original iPhone used it for conference calling, but that’s because the alternative was typing arcane codes on a number pad. ↩
Amusingly, if you go back and watch the WWDC 2010 keynote where Steve Jobs introduces FaceTime, he brags that it requires no setup…and here’s the page on Apple’s site about how to set up FaceTime. Granted, it’s easy, but it’s not nothin’. ↩
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