iOS 7 preview: FaceTime audio for when you want to be heard but not seen
Apple's FaceTime is a built-in way for anyone on a recent iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Mac to quickly, easily make and receive video calls. It's been a boon to long distance families and relationships, traveling lovers and parents, and those who use sign language alike. Sometimes, however, you're just not dressed, styled, or simply in the mood to be seen. While there's always been a workaround to kill the FaceTime camera, with iOS 7 Apple is, at long last, making FaceTime Audio its own, proper thing.
Unfortunately, Apple hasn't said or shown almost anything about FaceTime Audio yet, simply:
FaceTime Audio where you can now do high-quality audio calls over Wi-Fi on any iOS device.
They also said you'll be able to block FaceTime calls, presumably audio and video, from those you'd rather not have bother you.
If it's really Wi-Fi only, and doesn't work over LTE or 3G networks, that'll be a drag. FaceTime video finally went cellular with iOS 6, and while we can speculate carriers wouldn't want direct audio competition over their data networks, Skype has been doing just that for years, as have a bevy of other third-party apps.
If/when FaceTime Audio does hit cellular, it could be as disruptive to voice as it iMessage has been to traditional SMS and MMS. Granted, unless and until Apple makes good on its promise to release FaceTime - a collection of open standards - as an open standard that can get implemented on other platforms, its utility will always be limited, but it would be a start. (Maybe after all the patent troll suits are finally laid rest?)
That's part of the reason I'd still rather a combined iMessage and FaceTime, so like BBM, Skype, Hangouts, etc. there's one place to go for all the Apple-powered messaging, video, audio, text, and attachments.
For now, how the interface handles choosing video vs. audio FaceTime calls, especially how they present them when on and off Wi-Fi will be interesting to see. The strength of FaceTime isn't only its quality, but that it's just there and just works for mainstream people. Adding features and keeping it simple is important.
We'll only know for sure when FaceTime Audio ships as part of iOS 7 this fall. Until then let me know - is FaceTime Audio a feature you've been waiting for?