Will FaceTime audio bring VoIP calling into regular, everyday smartphone use?

FaceTime audio has been jokingly referred to since its WWDC 2013 introduction by some, as the phone. While this may be amusing to some, the wider picture is something potentially more important. In adding audio only calling to FaceTime, Apple has created their own Skype. And, with it, opened up VoIP to the masses.

VoIP calling is nothing new. We've had Skype for a long time, and it has become pretty much the global standard. BlackBerry too has voice calling within BBM -- the soon to be cross platform BBM -- so Apple isn't even the first to integrate a proprietary service. The downside to both of these, on iOS at least, is that they require a separate application. FaceTime is built in to iOS 7, which gives it an advantage the others will never have.

Every iOS 7 user will have acces to FaceTime audio. As such, all of your friends, your parents, grandparents, will all have a free VoIP service that they may not even recognise as such. Jargon is scary, and third-party services rely on the people you want to get in touch with having an account on the same service. If someone calls you on FaceTime audio, it's basically indistinguishable from a regular phone call.

How about telling your grandma in Australia she can call you from her iPhone completely free of charge, just the same as making a phone call? FaceTime audio is available right within the contact listing for anyone it's an option for. You don't have to worry if someone has it, because if they don't, you hit the phone call button instead. iOS 7 takes away the necessity for you to worry about finding out if someone has the same service as you, what their login name is, any of that. You can just pick up the phone, and call them.

So it really could be VoIP for the masses. You don't need yet another account and yet another third-party app. You just pick up your phone, find a contact, and call them. There is now a separate FaceTime app within iOS 7 on the iPhone, as there has been always on the iPad, but the same calling options are available from within the contacts, where FaceTime has always resided on the iPhone.

Apple had a similar kind of hit on instant messaging with iMessage. It's just there, you don't need to do anything special or download any special apps. And that's what matters to most average users. FaceTime audio isn't necessarily a Skype killer, but it's got huge potential in the space.

Richard Devine

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+

  • Wonder how VoIP would affect amount of data use ... and if that would be an issue to keep that occurring with the frequency being anticipated?
  • A good question, for sure. And will carriers (AT&T, anyone?) impose restrictions on cellular use of this?
  • I thought face time audio was wifi only...
  • So was FaceTime video, but it's not likely to last, surely? Sent from the iMore App
  • Being that data is the new cash cow for carriers (replacing their old 1, text messages), I would think they would absolutely love it if you used your data for calls bc customers will go over the data limit THAT much faster. Users burning thru data = more $$ for carriers.
  • FaceTime is not cross-paltform, so it will never become a standard any more than iMessage has. And I wonder if people with small data plans understand, upon answering an incoming FaceTime voice call, that they are in fact depleting their data plan... by answering to a call, which would otherwise be free. So the receiver is simply subsidizing someone else's bill (who may have unlimited data, for isnatnce, but not unlimited call minutes.) Oh, and love how Apple shamelessly cribbed that incoming call experience from WP.
  • "So it really could be VoIP for the masses. " For the masses using Apple devices because there is no Facetime for other platforms.
  • The question is; how many iOS users don't use something like Skype? There's a buttload of iOS users out there, remember.
  • Yep. Skype sucks. FaceTime from Contacts rocks. I had forgot there was even a FaceTime app, as my family just face times each other from contacts or Siri
  • Something else that this brings ... Voice over LTE! I'm not sure what the quality of Facetime audio will be like, but potentially the quality could be far better than calls over the cellular network.
  • I like viber. On more platforms, over 3G, and uses your phone number Sent from the iMore App
  • FaceTime Audio will surely help where cell service is poor but Wifi is ok, and you are talking to another iPhone user. Tango lets you do both audio and video to not only iPhone users but other platforms as well. The real feature I was hoping to see would be voice over wifi without the need for a femtocell. Sent from the iMore App
  • > The real feature I was hoping to see would be voice over wifi without the need for a femtocell. YES ... I would love to see this!!!
  • +1 If it could support WiFi calling on T-Mobile like some Android phones do.
  • This is going to further my plan of using the iPad mini as my cellphone.
  • Sometimes me and my friends talk over face time on wifi due to bad cellular reception so FaceTime audio is gonna be awesome.
  • iOS is becoming better and better every year! even the apps are becoming better!
  • Yet you still put that B.S. link at the bottom.....c'mon B
  • And you are?..if you dont like the link..simply dont click it :)
  • The clarity of Facetime Audio is amazing. I used it a few times between two iPhone 5's running iOS 7 beta and it worked great. Crystal clear. It was like they were stuck inside my phone and talking directly into my ear. That clear. The first few calls were made over WiFi and there wasn't any noticeable lag at all. I don't have LTE in my area with Verizon (yet), so I called someone who was on WiFi while I was on EVDO and it still worked and voice was just as clear and 'HD' as if I were on WiFi. Although there was a 2 second delay thanks to the high latency of EVDO.
  • I feel it has a lot of limiting factors and questions:
    1) Only good if both parties have iPhones with this feature.
    2) Unlimited data plans are near non-existent any more, the calling aspect of cellular plans are often unlimited, now start burning thru data expensive data to make phone calls? Really?
    3) When usable (see #1 above), will there be controls in the app or in settings that allow it to be turned off? Or set to use only on WiFI?
  • You sound like they took away something from you. They added this feature and it is clearly up to you if you want to use it or not.
  • We've been using BBM Video and Voice Chat for a while now, and from my experience the extra data usage on the audio only part is not very much. It's not unlike streaming music (iRadio anyone?) . Its the video over LTE that sucks your data. I was video chatting with my wife for an hour once and after the call she realized her wifi was off. There was a considerable amount of data used. But the voice and video call quality is beautiful and crystal clear.
  • I don't have the beta installed, but I thought it was wifi only? Yet commenters here worrying about data caps, and LTE, 3G, etc. at least for now? Not the right questions to ask. Who does this benefit?
    * iPod touch and iPad owners who want a "phone" but the caveat is you can only call othe iOS 7 users.
    * iOS 7 users wanting the ability to call international iOS 7 users Not insignificant, but given the rise of unlimited talk/text (you know, the cheapest to provide services that are seeing decreasing use? Which is why the big providers make it hard to get tiered minutes anymore. So they can provide a perception of value) I just don't see this being quite as big as iMessage.
  • No, it's not WiFi only (for now). I've used it over Verizon's 3G network (with some minor delay) but it still worked.
  • I used it today, the call quality was excellent... feel sorry for people who dont have iOS 7 yet... this stuff is awesome!
  • Hahahahhahahaha, keep your sympathy....us non-devs (you are a dev, right??) will be just fine for a few more months.
  • Not a dev, but I got hooked up through one. :)
  • "And, with it, opened up VoIP to the masses" As you yourself said, Skype did that a long time ago. The part of the "masses" that does not know how to download and set up Skype does not know what a Facetime is and what it does and won't have iOS7 anytime soon. Besides, to be really useful you need both ends on wifi, and for the "masses" that begins to be a bit of a hassle.
  • So, FaceTime comes built into iOS, and with iOS 7 it even has a front facing app, yet nobody will know what it is? And the WiFi thing isn't totally accurate, even Skype works OK on 3G
  • Yes, but you must have good, cheap 3G to use it, and that is not a reality for the masses. When I think masses, I think globally, since Apple is a global company. I feel that when you say "masses", you mean affluent americans who own iPhones. But I do agree in general terms with you, I just object to the "masses" thing. I also feel that until cheap and plentiful 3G and 4G are available worldwide, Facetime will be restricted to wi-fi use. I didn't do the math, but I also feel that right now, for the vast majority of people, if you're not on wi-fi a regular phone call will be cheaper than a VOIP one.
  • I'm not an American...so I'm definitely not referring to them. Where I live, unlimited data is an option, good 3G is pretty common and LTE is in our future :)
  • Ok, sorry about that, but let's agree that you live in a better place than most of the masses. Where I live 3G is pitiful, LTE is a very expensive reality, and Facebook-less Android devices abound. I like Facetime and use it daily, but wi-fi to wi-fi, and of couse, iOS to iOS. Too bad the promise of Steve Jobs about an open standard for Facetime never came true. What we really needed was Facetime calling its built-in Android, Windows or BB counterpart, not a proprietary solution. That will never work for the masses.
  • The first thing that is going to happen with this, when it's released in the Fall, is AT&T will find a way to block it unless you pay more money to them. Either that, or they will raise the price on their data plans and blame it on all of those "bad iPhone users" that are hogging all the bandwidth. Or both...
  • Wow, what a fanboy Richard is. To say and I quote "Every iOS 7 user will have access to FaceTime audio. As such, all of your friends, your parents, grandparents, ..." All my friends and family? I don't know what world YOU are living in, but I have friends and family that have Android devices. And I am sure in the future have Windows and who knows (Facebook?) devices. But to be so self-centered to think that just because Facetime is "built-in" to IOS 7, that it will be anything more than another (less useful) version of Skype. And just because Skype or BBM are separate apps, doesn't make it less viable. If anything, its cross-platform strength is Facetime's weakness. And before someone tells me, "Well, you have to have the same app to communicate". Yeah, that is true. So, I e-mail my friend in Hong Kong to go and download Skype for Android and bingo! We are talking. Not a big deal. Really. So stop the fanboy stuff, PLEASE!! Let's talk about something Apple REALLY is innovative about.
  • How about not being so butthurt about it......just a thought.
  • How about saying something constructive and have a valid opinion. Instead of being a dick. Just a thought...
  • No offense, but AT&T and Verizon are going to launch Voice over LTE by the end of 2013, and there's plenty of multi-platform solutions out there, none of which are easy to use as Facetime. Still, if you want to use Hangouts or Skype, have at it. They're both available on iOS.
  • Facebook has VoIP calling between friends, I would think this would be more "Voip for the masses" than FaceTime Audio.
  • In North America. Sucks the rest of the world.
  • I think it will open up VOIP further IF it works seamlessly like iMessage. It will certainly be more convenient than Skype when calling other iPhone users.
  • Until Facetime is available multi-platform, multi-phone, Facetime will always be a minor niche product compared to Skype.
  • Another good feature for iPhone users looking forward to it. I will need Google Voice and Skype for my Android peeps.