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Using Apple FaceTime to connect from a Mac to a... TRAIN?

Hands-On with Apple's new FaceTime for Mac (Screenshots)

At Apple's "big event" today, one of the announcements I found most interesting was that Apple's proprietary FaceTime video protocol would now be available for Mac computers.  To date it has only been available for the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch. Naturally, I had to give it a try! ;-) I'll show the usage here and then mention some problems I found with this "beta".


Installing FaceTime for Mac was a straightforward download, doubleclick and go through the installer. Once you launch the app, you have to verify the email address you want to use to receive calls. After that, your screen loads to show your video and the contacts in your Mac OS X Address book:


Jim Courtney and I usually try out new toystools like this and sure, enough, he was online and called me.facetimemactoiphone.jpg The first time, though, he used an email address that I did not have associated with my Mac. It nicely automagically called me on my mobile (which was also in Jim's Address Book record for me) and we had a MacBook-to-iPhone call.

It worked fine and we had a great call. It was actually quite handy in that I could position the iPhone wherever I wanted it to give a decent view.

Next up I gave Jim a call from my iMac using his email address. The call went through to Jim and we were soon talking Mac-to-Mac. Audio and video quality were both quite excellent.

Given Apple's intense focus on design, it was no surprise that with FaceTime for the Mac after you accepted the call and stopped moving the mouse, the call controls just slid out of sight leaving the focus on the communication you had with the other party. Two views:


Naturally if you move your mouse back over the video window the controls come back in view. One of the controls let you go full-screen, which was quite the experience on a 27-inch iMac :-) You also have a control on your window that lets you rotate the view from portrait to landscape. The result looked like this:


And no, Jim's video was not as crisp when blown up to the full-screen size on my iMac. It was fine for viewing and for our call, though.

After we hung up, I played a bit more with the app and found that in the preferences you can associate multiple email addresses with your Apple account:


The preferences are, as you can see, rather limited.


Overall, FaceTime for the Mac seemed to work rather well. I did though, note these issues:

  1. HOW DO YOU SHUT THE VIDEO OFF? - You read that right... there doesn't seem to be any way to shut the video OFF. When you launch FaceTime, it takes over your camera and then continues to show you video of yourself in the FaceTime window. There are two issues here:

    • Using the camera does impact CPU performance. Not a huge deal on my iMac where I don't run a huge number of apps, but a MAJOR issue on my already way-over-taxed MacBook Pro that I use for everything.

    • I can't use the camera for anything else. I use Skype all the time for video. I record screencasts and video using the camera. It seems like I have to shut FaceTime off in order to use the camera in another app... but then of course that means that people can't call me using FaceTime.

    Particularly for the second issue, this seems like a major FAIL to me. I asked about this on Twitter and loved this response from David Bryan:

  2. WHAT ABOUT WINDOWS? - Immediately after the announcement I had Windows-only friends asking "hey, what about us?" Yes, what about them? It's the same kind of fractured platform strategy like Skype has had. Unlike Skype, Apple is one of the providers of an operating system, so they obviously want to provide as many incentives for people to come over into the Mac world. Still, it would be nice to have Windows interoperability.

  3. STANDARDS? - Which leads naturally to the last point... where is the open FaceTime specification? We know FaceTime is built on a number of open standards... but where is the specification that would allow other video endpoints to support FaceTime calls? Is it Apple's goal to lock us in entirely to their products? C'mon Apple, lets get the spec out there so that other companies can support FaceTime and we can grow the video ecosystem!

Problems aside, it's great to see FaceTime connections being possible to Macs. So far it's worked quite well (outside of that turning off the video issue :-) )

What do you think? Have you tried out FaceTime for the Mac yet?

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