iOS 7 came onto the global stage last week loaded with new features and redesigns. You can go to any large tech blog and see a video set to futuristic elevator music with a pair of disembodied hands going through the stylish features. Depth in the menu! Slide to unlock anywhere on the screen[i]! Tons of filters and crop options on camera!
One announcement that is beginning to get attention now that we’ve calmed ourselves over the new UI is FaceTime’s new voice-only call option FaceTime Audio. This feature will only be available on a WiFi connection, understandable seeing as no carrier wants to offer free voice calling over their networks. It kind of defeats the purpose of a phone plan on a smart phone. Something some commenters are keen to point out, while others embrace the notion.
Mixed reactions aside, FaceTime Audio is one of several features showing how Apple wants to keep its users off its partners’ apps and on their own pre-loaded ones. Those filter and crop options on the iPhone camera? They’re so you don’t use Instagram (although you will). Apple Maps now has a night mode so you won’t use Google Maps (although with Google buying traffic app Waze, you probably still will). FaceTime Audio? While it sounds like an oxymoron, it’s to step up Apple’s game in the free-to-use VoIP arena.
VoIP is a big market that Apple wants to make waves in. Google has Google Voice and to a lesser extent, Google Hangout on G+. Viber has been making waves and has morphed into a full blown competitor. Then there is Microsoft Skype, the giant of the group – at least for now. Not to mention the business conferencing companies like Avaya.
The Achilles heel of FaceTime is that it is an Apple app and therefore, not accessible to the rest of the techverse. While FaceTime Voice is a nice feature, there’s no indication you’ll be able to reach out to your non-Apple contacts. Apple’s big sell with FaceTime Audio is the long-distance calling. However that’s just between Apple users. And even if
Facetime Audio does allow an Apple device to contact non-Apple devices, the person you’ll be calling who’s non-Apple then will get a call that eats up minutes. Which takes away the ability to use VoIP call for the casual catch up Apple loves to promote. Only other Apple users will see the benefit of your VoIP call. This makes it an Apple purist’s app.
And if you’re like me, you know very few Apple purists. I think I know one; the rest of us are a mixed bag. I like my MacBook, but I love me some Android. I have friends who have Android phones but have iPads and MacBooks for work, or iPhones but Android tablets and various other laptops/OS systems, and all of the combinations thereof. Not to mention the few who have sworn fealty to open-source and will never ever, ever use an Apple product[ii].
All of this diversity makes FaceTime, even if it is voice only, unfit for VoIP conquest. Admittedly I’m biased, having a history with Google Voice. I made spare cash through college on Craigslist selling aquarium products[iii]. Google Voice let me a second phone number for my smartphone when I was on the job. Sometimes you don’t want to give a potentially weird stranger your cell number because they’re buying ornamental shrimp from you[iv]. It doesn’t sound like FaceTime has this phone number generator feature.
Back to regular calling: I don’t want two apps and accounts. I want to access my contacts across all my devices, and sometimes I want thos
e Apple contacts to interact with my non-Apple contacts on the same platform. Surprise! Apple and non-Apple people like each other and like to work together! Who’d’ve thought that would happen?
This is Apple’s This is why we can’t have nice things moment. They want their customers to eschew third party apps, yet they refuse to make many of their programs cross platform. With the diverse ecosystem of devices and operating systems being used on a global scale, there’s no way to compete that way by keeping their platform closed. Which is why while FaceTime may be useful for letting you help your mom set up her iPad, it’s not the Skype killer or even the business telephony killer that Apple wants it to be.
[i] As long as it’s left to right.
[ii] They tend to run Linux and build their own rigs
[iii] True story.
[iv] I am not making this up. It was a weird time for me. I was a part of an aquatic society.