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< >

Where's FaceTime for Android?

Ask iMore: Where's FaceTime for Android?

When Steve Jobs first announced FaceTime for the iPhone 4 back in 2010, he said not only was it based on open standards, but that Apple would be releasing the FaceTime protocol itself as an open standard. That would allow third parties to create FaceTime clients for Android, Windows, BlackBerry, or any other platform. Now, 4 years later, there's still no open standard release in sight, much less cross-platform FaceTime clients. So, what happened?

The easiest, simplest explanation is that Apple has reneged on Steve Jobs' promise to release the FaceTime protocol as an open standard. That FaceTime proved too valuable to them as a proprietary implementation and so they changed their plans, and that's that. Anything is certainly possible, although my understanding is that the reason is more complicated, and far more maddening.

In August of 2010, roughly 2 months after the iPhone 4 was announced, Apple was sued by a patent holding company named VirnetX over a "method for establishing secure communication link between computers of virtual private network". Apple refused to settle, so they went to court. VirnetX continued adding services, including FaceTime, and devices, including the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 to the suit. In 2012, Apple lost to the tune of $368 million. That might not sound like a lot of money to a company like Apple with over a hundred billion in the bank, but Apple was also set to pay millions more in ongoing royalties to VirnetX for a service they were essentially giving away for free.

Apple hasn't given up on FaceTime. Just the opposite. They announced FaceTime Audio as part of iOS 7 and continue to actively market it, releasing a FaceTime every day commercial just last summer. While still maintaining they didn't infringe on any VirnetX patents, Apple began re-architecting FaceTime to go through relay servers and, hence, work around the patent.

The FaceTime litigation is still ongoing, and VirnetX still believes Apple is infringing on their patents in general, recently adding the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPad Air, and Retina iPad mini to the suit.

How Apple originally envisioned third party FaceTime implementations working was never disclosed. It looks like Apple would have to handle device identification, or create a system that could handle both Apple-identified and third-party identified devices. What's certain is that Apple never expected to have to run all FaceTime calls through their own servers. Apple, historically, doesn't excel at internet services, and it's no doubt a strain on their resources.

Adding Android users under this model, where they'd have to go through Apple's relay servers, is no-doubt a non-starter. Were some other company willing an able to use their own relay servers, and able to tie into Apple system, they'd still be subject to the same litigation from VirnetX, who has previously sued Microsoft, Cisco, and numerous others.

I'd very much love to see FaceTime for Android, FaceTime for Windows, even FaceTime for BlackBerry and Linux. (I'd also still love to see FaceTime merged with iMessage. Given the patent trolling, given then relay servers, and given the reality of the world we live in, I just don't think we will, and certainly not any time soon.

Thanks to Michael for the question. If you have a question for Ask iMore, please email it to podcast@imore.com, or tweet it to @iMore with the hashtag #askimore.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Where's FaceTime for Android?

95 Comments

You know, do you call Apple the patent troll when they're suing Samsung? People seeking protection for their intellectual property is what it exists for. At least you're consistent in that you're quite the Apple hypocrite! In this case Apple stepped on other's patents (as they have done many times) and they did so knowing they could probably bully their way through it. Your denial of this just proves my point.

Suing someone for a patent that you have actually implemented physically or plan to is different than suing someone for a patent you plan to do nothing with but sue people for.

Apple itself doesn't fit the typical definition of a patent troll (nor does Samsung). A patent troll is a non-practicing entity — a company that buys patents simply to hold them and sue others to make money — is what's typically referred to as a patent troll.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung, IBM etc. all patent tons of stuff, but mainly to implement it themselves, or as a defensive threat against litigation by other companies.

Now, Apple has business relationships with some companies that are patent trolls, like Rockstar (and maybe Intellectual Ventures?), and Samsung and Motorola have attempted to abuse standard-essential patents, so no one is exactly innocent.

Sorry if reality interfered with your attempts to troll!

Samsung actually MAKES products that use the patents they hold, as opposed to the patent troll companies who don't make a darn thing. Big difference, and the key to finishing off the patent troll plague once and for all. It's simple, really, if you expect to be able to sue for patent infringement, you must actually have a factory that makes an actual physical product with the actual function you are suing about and is available for retail sale. It's a very simple fix but impossible to implement, because the patent trolls have infinite monetary resources to give to Congressmen and Senators, preventing any legislation to fix the problem from ever seeing the light of day, so nothing ever happens.

Facetime is just easier to use, better and integrates awesomely with iOS and Mac.

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Which is why facetime will never be available on non apple devices. Just part of apples plan to lock you in, so that once you start using their devices, they only truely work with other apple devices. Very clever really, but not so good for the consumer.

Native apps on OSX, and every iOS device has facetime installed.

Hangouts is better for several reasons (compatibility, live streams, group chat, etc), but it's like Google+. It's not widespread because it isn't widespread.

This is one of the things I absolutely hate about the software patents. I'm not seeing anything in their patents that deserve protection for more than 5 or 10 years ESPECIALLY since VirnetX did not invent them, they simply bought it from a different company.

It was filed in 1999 for the first patent (which was continued from another patent if I read it correctly) and 2003 for the second patent, continued from an abandoned patent in 2000 and so on. Sadly, there are nothing we can do about this until we as a society decides that enough is enough and software patents should be abolished.

The US decided in the last decade that such patents should be extended to 20 years, which IMO is a disgrace to the whole point of the patent system. We're all going to have to suffer because innovation will be hindered at a much slower pace because we all have to worry about what patents we're infringing, lawsuits, and so on. My problem with software patents is that they're all based on simple things that more than one person can come up with the same idea at any given time. That's why math formulas can't be patented or nature itself.

Don't get me started on the copyrights...

Apple CAN provide what they originally implemented but they have to wait until the patents expires in ~2025, this is all assuming that US doesn't extend the patent protection again like they did with copyrights.

VirnetX thinks they deserve $700 million dollars for those TWO patents and more. I'm sure Apple would love to license it for a million per year just to avoid the situation, especially considering how much they're spending per month routing those calls.

*cough* Rockstar *cough*

Apple is in a position to drive reform of the patent system, but they are one of the clearest beneficiaries and hardest drivers of the status quo.

As to the notion that math is not patentable, at least one appellate court has indicated that only applies to "hard math" ( http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/08/appeals-court-says-only-compl... ), leaving not just a loophole, but a loop-chasm through which most companies, not just Apple, have been only too happy to drive.

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I dislike Apple's involvement with Rockstar as much as the next nerd but a) they don't seem to have any managerial control over Rockstar, and b) it's possible Rockstar's patents will prove as valueless to Apple as Motorola's have proven to Google.

I'd be happier with Apple if they extricated themselves from Rockstar, but I wouldn't consider Apple themselves a patent troll in the traditional sense.

Apple owns 58% of the consortium, and has the absolute control that comes with a clear majority ownership stake. It is wishful thinking to imagine Rockstar can make a single move without Apple's explicit permission.

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Based on Apple's statements they have and want nothing to do with daily ops.

That makes sense as well.

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Which is 100% their choice - Apple has the unquestioned power to stop any unsavory activities, and chooses not to. If they disapproved, they could and would stop it. That they do not is approval, and encouragement.

There is simply no way to excuse Apple's actions here.

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...then you should not try to excuse their trollish behavior, because, despite all the good work they do, in the Rockstar case, they are indistinguishable from a troll.

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...then you should not try to excuse their trollish behavior, because, despite all the good work they do, in the Rockstar case, they are indistinguishable from a troll.

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How have Motorola's patents proved "useless" for Google? They've only had them for a couple years, and they kept them when they sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for a lot less than the $12.5 billion (IIRC) that they bought Moto for, so they clearly think it's important for them to hold those patents.

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*valueless, excuse me.

Hey, the Android iMore app needs comment editing like the AC app has, please and thanks. (I'm sure it's already in the dev's to-do list.)

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I agree with HarrHarr, Google's Hangouts is much better than face time, for a start you can hangout with 9 people and that's without mentioning the plethora of devices it'll work on and the tools and functions that are provided for extra entertainment or productivity.

That's what Hangouts is built for and it's awesome for that!

However, FaceTime isn't built for group chats, it's built for simple voice face-to-face or audio calls, nothing more or less.

Again, the point of FaceTime was that when it was originally released, it was going to be released as an open standard that anybody can implement into their own OS, including Android, WP, Ubunutu, and so on.

Hangouts is built to handle easy person to person. I call my kids and wife, when I travel, from my phone to theirs all the time. One away from the group? No worries, add them to the call.

Hangouts is exactly like Facetime, in that regard.

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Yes, I use Hangout, Google Voice with Talktone, but the voice quality is far superior on FaceTime. Unfortunately I am using the Google option but would switch to Face time for the superior Voice quality. Didn't you notice the difference?

There's many issues with Hangouts. The biggest is that you need a Google account. Something a lot of people don't have or want, or have gotten rid of.

Those suggesting Hangouts are missing the point. FaceTime is built in. You tap a contact and viola. FaceTime. Nothing to install. Nothing to set up.

Since the initial loss, Apple is relying on relay servers more. The consistency and quality has taken a hit, so it is no surprise they haven't moved on their initial goals.

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Isn't that the point of what the article was talking about?

FaceTime was going to be an open standard technology that any platform could use. Imagine all Android, Windows Phone, Ubunutu can come with FaceTime built in, no separate app or anything, just built right into the OS.

Imagine how awesome that would be, not having to worry about if somebody is using FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Skype or anything else, just use FaceTime everywhere without any restrictions.

Unfortunately, Apple couldn't even begin to start releasing it as an open standard because it's blocked by the patents they are trying to work around.

Google hasn't made Hangouts for Windows Phone, Windows, Mac, or BlackBerry yet either, so they're barely any better from Apple in a pure platform compatibility sense.

(That those platforms have small marketshares shouldn't matter if your goal is true ubiquity.)

Not completely true since Windows and Mac have the Chrome extension which is basically the same as a native app (practically, not technically).

But yeah, no Windows Phone or BlackBerry app. Nevertheless, Hangouts is amazing :)

I agree with Calvin Uijlen. If you say it's not on Windows or Mac that is not true. Native apps are not needed when Google's can give a great experience through the web browser. Yes Windows Phone and Blackberry are missing. There is only so many resources to go around and I think everyone agrees that the iOS and Android app aren't perfect and working on making the apps better is more important than adding apps to Win Phone or BB. Basically improving the apps on the two main platforms have a higher ceiling when it comes to adding customers then adding BB or Win Phone. This is why newer platforms will have issues getting support. Which has the chance of getting and keeping customers. I'd argue if you can't maintain your app on iOS and Android if you focus on apps for BB or Win Phone then you can't afford to make that commitment to the 3rd and 4th platforms.

That's on Apple. They could allow others to call but they lock things down to their choices. I guarantee people would use other integrated solutions for video chat if they could.

But...Android has Hangouts built in as well, since this article is talking about Android. It isn't on the call screen easy but definitely easy to start and receive (9 year old does it all the time, has since he was 7).

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Have you read any of the articles? "That's on Apple" is a lousy argument. When Apple made that statement, it was before all this litigation. It isn't Apple holding back for their own desire, it is an unexpected patent issue causing them to hold back. Not the same thing.

Also, Apple, in general, likes to release things when the experience is the best it can be. FaceTime was that at first. However, with the relays now being required, it has become less so. Apple knows how to make the experience better, but are currently unable to do so.

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I can't believe anyone would suggest using Google Hangouts. I don't use Google's services - including search - and I'm not going to start using their FaceTime clone when I've got that functionality perfectly integrated into my Mac ecosystem.

Proprietary, maybe. But that was not Apple's original intent. Hangouts is also, technically, proprietary.

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Facetime & Facetime Audio are literally built into the phone...I don't need to sign in to anything or plug in passwords...it just works. Sure, I use Hangouts also, but it's a completely different concept. Before the patent trolls FaceTime was pristine. It's still great, but quality definitely is iffy sometimes. Die patient trolls!

Exactly, and it could've cover any platforms as well. Google, Microsoft, etc could support it right out of the box without any restrictions.

There's no need to sign into hangouts either, when setting up thephone the user enters their username... And that's it - Same as with face time.

You are correct KemikalGeneral but some people here don't realize that facetime would require a log in and password if it was on any other platform other than iOS just like Hangouts is on iOS. I think hangouts are better because I can be chatting (txt) with 2 to 5 or more people and instintly jump in a video chat with everyone and if you don't want to do video you can turn off the camera and it's only sound. I don't have to select 1 person like I'm making a phone call. Hangouts is really good on Android and probably not as good on the iPhone. I'm sure Apple's facetime wouldn't be as good on Android as it is on iOS. It's going to take longer to perfect that which is why they (google) doesn't have the man power to develop windows phone and BB apps if they wan't to have 2 great apps not to mention Google Voice is being merged in the next few months which is a key milestone for the project.

Hangouts is literally built into the Android phone...I don't need to sign into anything or plug in passwords...itjust works. Nope, I can't use FaceTime, but on Android it would be a completely different concept. Before Apple got caught infringing on patents it didn't pay royalties for, FaceTime was pristine (now, Hangouts is better!). Die patent infringers!

See, I can do it too!

I would like to agree with everything said on this article. But:

- where is imessage for Android?
- where is iTunes for Android?
- where's iWork for Android?
- where's safari for Android?

With over 13 billion $ of net profit in their first fiscal quarter, the reason becomes clear.

Apple could monetize Android like they do with Windows (itunes) and the mentioned software is a million times better than anything available on Android, so adoption would be huge, and the profit would make it worth it.

But iOS became too big and too powerful to ignore the advantages that such closed implementations can bring. Apple does not see Android as "worth it". It's that easy, and sad, but also justified.

Because of that business model, today Apple benefits of a much stronger ecosystem than the competition, way stronger set of APIs and tools, higher adoption rates, bigger support on the form of accessories and deployment of products, etc.

If they were smaller, sure, but as it is: Android isn't worth it. People actually buy their products because of their closed, proprietary, reliable, easy to use and much more powerful software.

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Apple only ever pledged to release FaceTime as an open standard.

I'd love to see iTunes for iCloud, however, the way they've made iWork for iCloud.

With the way that Google Play Music works, I'd love to see this too-but only if they implement a similar 20,000 song free cap for uploading

"Android isn't worth it..." Haha, that's my cue to ditch this conversation and join the toddlers group who don't spout such rubbish. Android accounts for around 80% of the world's mobile phones and have it's own, better, more equipt imessage, i tunes etc...

"stronger eco system..." ... Slowing, almost failing ecosystem...

What a load of crap.

What happenend? Skype. Apple perceives no ability to compete with Skype, so it does not spend resources on developing Facetime into anything more ambitious than it already is.

Is that not obvious?

No, because Skype predates FaceTime.

Microsoft and Windows Phone are great, but isn't it tiring to troll here so frequently?

A problem with making it on multiple devices, which I doubt Apple would ever do, is that sometimes the reason people buy Apple products (actually most of the time) is for the services they offer. I would never buy something without FaceTime or iMessage because I rely on it so much now. Easily being able to look at calls/texts on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad is just a convenience that I could never give up after using it and Apple loves that!

Sorry to burst your bubble but Apple is one of the worst companies when it comes to services. Ask Rene. He'll tell you. Google is way a head on services and will likely stay that way. When I send a message with Hangouts I know when someone has see it as well as not having to worry about messages arriving out of order or being delayed.

Sorry but that's the same as iMessages and FaceTime. And the google plus brand is a fail and I'd hate to sign up for a social network no one uses. I've never had something not delivering or going out of order on my iPhone, Mac, or iPad.

I wish the discussion was more about "it doesn't matter if you're on an iPhone, an Android phone, or which tablet". As browsers work on all devices, isn't there a way to integrate the various apps using WebRTC?

Native Client? Web apps do better with cross-compatibility, once you account for all the idiosyncrasies of the different HTML and JS engines, but they don't perform as well.

Google's the best web company in the world and they still use native code for Android. Facebook is the biggest social network in the world and they still had to go native for the Facebook app.

It's still a native code world, and likely won't change any time soon.

All that said, however, iWork for iCloud is phenomenal.

Ugh! That's why I have Skype bc Daddy is an iOS hater. It's also a pain bc I can't iMessage him from my ipad. And then pics don't fog through for him! #everyoneshouldhaveios

Rene is overlooking the actual statement by Jobs and what it means. Here is what Jobs said on stage at WWDC; "We're going to the standards bodies, starting tomorrow, and we're going to make FaceTime an open industry standard". It's unknown if Facetime was actually submitted (since submissions can be private). I'm going to assume Jobs wasn't lying and it was submitted. Anyone can submit a standard but Apple does not have any control on it that standard becomes ratified. Basically Apple would have to convince Google, Microsoft, Cisco and anyone else in this field to accept the Facetime standard. Easier said than done since Google submitted their own standard (WebRTC) and so has Microsoft (CU-RTC-Web).

Now, it may be possible that Apple removed the submission due to the lawsuit or due to the fact Apple has a new CEO, or it could be that the submission is still alive just waiting to be ratified. Basically, nobody knows.

What did Rene overlook? Everything he said is not negating what you said or what Jobs said.

> Now, it may be possible that Apple removed the submission due to the lawsuit or due to the fact Apple has a new CEO, or it could be that the submission is still alive just waiting to be ratified. Basically, nobody knows.

IIRC, majority of the standard bodies require that any standard being submitted have agreements in place that the patents are fully licensed for such distribution or have permissions from the owners.

If Apple submits such a standard without any agreements, then the standard will be rejected in the first round on the spot. It will not move any further.

Since we know for sure that Apple don't have permissions and is infringing on some patents with FaceTime, it's pretty much confirmed we will not see such the FaceTime standard for another 10 years until the patent expire.

You think Apple, Microsoft and Cisco said ok to WebRTC? Of course not, yet the standard was submitted. It appears that your argument boils down to "steve Jobs was not truthful at wwdc", and I see no evidence that is true.

We also don't "know for sure" that Apple is infringing on any patents as that case is currently pending. Case in point; AT&T once sued Apple over mpeg-4 patent infringement (they settled out of court), funny how those AT&T patents didn't stop mp4 from becoming a standard. All a patent means is that is yet another license to pay out (just look at all the holders for h.264).

Yes, we do know that Apple is infringing on those two patents. It's linked in this article, Apple was sued in 2010, lost the case, and the appeal in 2013: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/02/judge-upholds-facetime-patent...

This new case is about adding Apple's newer devices to the list. Even if Apple wins in this specific case, it only applies to the newer devices and it does not negate their infringements from the older devices. They still must pay for those older devices.

WebRTC is still in the flux. Google lost the right to use V8 as Nokia refuse to license their patents: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57575564-93/despite-google-patent-effor...

h.264 is a standard that has agreements in place that say that if you use this standard, you must pay the royalties. That's the difference, a standard can be submitted as long as all the patents are accounted for with agreements, that also include payments.

Since Apple keeps refusing to pay royalties for the patents, they do not have the agreements in order to include it in the standard.

They do have that on 88 households here thats where the leak and shit is they have tech from NRA Battelle Boeing China and Taiwan. So i am in neck deep shitters trading doing as they wish without consequences

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I wish FaceTime made it cross platform.

I also wish cross-platform BBM was as robust as it is on BB10.

I finally wish that Google Hangouts was integrated into the OS better (ie. Cellphone number/Apple ID the way iOS handles FaceTime and iMessage).

Oh well, hopefully one of the 3 makes progress above the other two.

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A messaging service that is not multiplatform will always loose on the long run. It isn't worth it.

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If you want to video chat with as many people as possible, no matter what OS they're using, Skype is your best bet. Forget Facetime, forget Hangouts, forget BBM, forget Line, etc.

Skype might not be an open standard, but there are clients for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10, Meego Harmattan, Maemo, Nokia S40, Symbian, and more. The competition isn't even trying to be in the same field.

Errrr.. No..
Do you want to group video call via Skype?
Forget it, you need Skype premium.
Bye bye Skype.
Welcome Google Hangouts.

The market share of Android and iOS is more than 90%. I don't really care if it runs on Windows Phone, Blackberry etc because nobody uses it! Besides, you can always install third party gTalk apps or IM apps which are compatible with gTalk. Problem solved. Google should develop Hangouts for WP/BB, true, but huge problem? No..

That might be enough for you, but it doesn't work for me. Windows Phone is slowly eating away iOS' marketshare (everywhere but in the US) and just focusing on the biggest ones right now might not be the smartest thing to do, unless you want to change IM system once more in the future.

Second of all, Google Talk is not the same thing as Hangouts. The features which Google offers through Google Talk cannot even begin to match thous of Hangouts. Video and audio support on Google Talk was remove quite a long time ago.

Skype works, it's here, right now, and it exists on almost every platform out there.

But sure, if you just video chat with Android and iOS users, then I guess Hangouts will do for you.

In some markets Windows Phone has double digit market share numbers. It matters. Blackberry less so because they still sell more Legacy Devices than BB10 devices, but Windows Phone is not in that same situation.

You may not care, but those people do.

I personally don't care about FaceTime because Hangouts and Skype exist NOW and are usable from both the platforms you care about. Why this blog post even exists is beyond me, considering FaceTime is not a selling point anymore. Every platform has a 1st party Video Chat option now, and FaceTime is the ONLY one that is locked down to only one platform.

If you want to better communicate with people on other platforms, then YOU need to use something not built by Apple that works well on those platforms. FaceTime is NOT that.

Yeah I find if pretty weird that now mostly all phones have video call FaceTime of what you call it but you can't video chat with different phones unless you download tango which is kinda slow and there is skype but yeah why make accounts when you should just be able to video call anyone as long as they have front facing camera on their phones

I have no idea why anyone would think that a patent troll's activities prevent Apple from making the technology for FaceTime publicly available? They may have to disclose that using the technology may bring them into dispute with patent holders. I would accept that Apple might be unhappy about traffic volumes going through its own relay servers, but you can't deny they don't have the processing capacity at their various server farms.

If FaceTime is superior to other options in the non-Apple world then it becomes a marketing tool for Apple's innovation capability. Finding a way round the VirtnetX patents would also be a demonstration of that capability? I think the high jump and the Fosbury Flop in these matters rather than killing off the trolls.

It grates me every time I listen to a podcast that vilifies Apple for not having made FaceTime available on other platforms. I am not in the tech news industry, and even I know patent infringement has been a major holdup.

Paying to be locked down to your phone, when you have a solution built into the OS' services package that works flawlessly across all major desktop operating systems and the two biggest mobile platforms? Sounds a bit illogical, don't you think?

Apple put iMessage and FaceTime in OSX for the same reason Microsoft Preloads Skype in Windows 8.1 and Google has Hangouts available from the Desktop as well as mobile devices. To expect Android users to pay for a 5th rate user experience is a bit hilarious; especially considering that user base generally is more apt to shun cheap paid apps in favor of free alternatives that works flawlessly - especially when the alternative in question is a preloaded Google App that comes standard fare with the account required to access the Google Play Store.

Hangouts is built-into Android devices, and is available for iOS. Instead of complaining about the lack of FaceTime on Android, install Hangouts and use it. Any lack of communication efficiency in this case is solely user error. Welcome to 2014.