With rumors flying around that Apple is going to focus less on new iOS 12 features and more on stability and performance, I asked you what new features you were still hoping to see. Mostly, I got what I expected. Mostly. But,a surprising-to-me number of you said FaceTime enhancements.
Maybe that shouldn't have come as a surprise? Anyone who's ever been separated from the people they love for any amount of time knows how valuable FaceTime video is, and anyone looking to avoid the cost and low-quality of long distance calls has pretty much made FaceTime audio their go-to. It's also end-to-end encrypted, which isn't just great for anyone who values privacy and security, but people who work in industries like medicine where regulations demand it.
But, aside from adding audio a few years ago, FaceTime feels pretty much the same as it did when it launched back in 2010. And, when you look at the difference between new iMessage features announced year-over-year, FaceTime feels frozen by comparison.
Last year, though, FaceTime gained the ability to capture Live Photos. So maybe that freeze is finally beginning to thaw? If that's the case, I hope Apple goes all-in on FaceTime. In fact, I hope Apple makes FaceTime the next iMessage.
1. FaceTime screen sharing
Instead of just relaying what the camera sees, FaceTime could relay what's currently on the screen. Start the call, tap a button, confirm the request — because privacy and security — and then leave the call and whomever you're FaceTime'ing with gets to see whatever you're doing.
It'd be great for remote tech support, especially if you have family who aren't as familiar with all the settings and features. And yeah, I know, it's always easy to say something should be implemented when you're a YouTuber or podcaster or blogger and not the engineer responsible for implementing it, but Apple already provides for screen sharing in iMessage on Mac. Making it part of FaceTime and bringing it to iOS just makes the kind of sense that does.
2. FaceTime conference calls
Handling multiple callers on a FaceTime call is totally obvious, especially to anyone who's ever seen the Modern Family FaceTime episode that used Hollywood magic to simulate the FaceTime features the real world has been lusting after for years.
For implementation, Apple already has an excellent conference call system built into the Phone app. The interface would need to be adapted for video calls, but adding and merging calls should be just as smooth. All with the same end-to-end encryption as one-on-one calls.
Once you're in a call, it'd be great to be able to toggle between full screen, where it switches to whomever is actively talking, and a grid view, where you can see everyone up to whatever limit the service imposes. On bigger screens, like iPad and Mac, the ability to toggle into multi-window mode would be fun too, again like Modern Family. But, baby steps.
3. FaceTime AR + Apps
There are already rumors of Animoji coming to FaceTime in iOS 12 and that'd be a lot of fun. Apple is all-in on AR — augmented reality — though, so why not make FaceTime all-in on AR as well? It's been done in other apps before, but the ability to add objects to your face, like hats, glasses, beards, and more would be super fun, especially with the power of ARKit. So would the ability to add objects, like robots or birds or whatever in the background.
And the opposite as well. Apple's Clips app can already use the iPhone X TrueDepth camera to do "Portrait Green Screen", or place your face on different backgrounds, from Blade Runner to Rouruni Kenshin. I'd love to do that in FaceTime the way I used to be able to do a crude version in the old iChat.
Take it one step further and, just like there's an App Store for iMessage, it'd be great to have an App Store for FaceTime where I could a range of licensed and indie AR stickers and backgrounds.
4. Integrate with iMessage
Communication is fluid. There's just no line between video and text for Gen Insta and Gen Snap. You can kinda do it already on iPhone by 3D Touching on a contact and choosing Call or Message, but then you're jumping between apps like an animal, which is the opposite of fluid.
There are a bunch of live video streaming services that already integrate video and text well enough. I'd love to see Apple do something like that as well. From iMessage, I tap a button and the background becomes the live video call. From FaceTime, I tap a button and the iMessage field slides up from the bottom.
And, then, let me draw, annotate, and capture during the FaceTime calls and screen shares the way I can with Digital Touch in iMessage or Instant Markup today.
5. FaceTime call recording
Whether it's one on one, screen sharing, or a conference call, the ability to record a conversation would be terrific. I mean, Live Photos are fun capturing brief moments — if you're fast enough to catch them — but video and audio files are where it's at. And Apple is one of the few companies we can trust to do it not only privately and securely, but ethically as well — with consent.
Hit the record button, everyone else on the call gets a popup asking if the call can be recorded, and the call doesn't get recorded unless and until all parties consent.
It would be great for businesses that want to share conversations or presentations with team members who couldn't make it on the call. And, super selfishly, it'd be fantastic for YouTubers and podcasters who want to get high-quality clips for shows. Yeah, getting multi-channel output with separate audio or video for each participant would be the holy grail, but that seems like such a long shot I'd happily take what I can get for now.
One more…. feature: FaceTime Everywhere
The cross-platform Elephant in the room. When Steve Jobs first announced FaceTime he surprised everyone — including, reportedly, his own FaceTime engineering team — by announcing Apple would make the collection of open standards used for FaceTime an own open standard in its own right, so other platforms and vendors could implement it if they wanted to.
Because of the re-architecture, the option to have others implement it on its own may be gone and everyone would now have to go through Apple's servers. I don't know.
I do know Apple historically doesn't operate anything at a loss and adding hundreds of millions of Android, Chrome, and Windows users with no clear business model — because people probably wouldn't pay a subscription for it like Apple Music, and Apple won't broker data to support it like Facebook or Google — might not be something the company would currently consider. But, since FaceTime isn't iMessage, it might be something easier for Apple to experiment with.
At least that's what I think. Now, I want to know what you think? Where would you like to see Apple take FaceTime next? All of the above, or something completely different?
Video voicemail? Full-on personal social network with Photo Stream and Shared Events? Let me know!
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.