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.

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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?

Rene Ritchie

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.

  • Rene, just curious: You stated: "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." Would you see this as a make or break thing for Apple's communications apps or even helping in any sort of way? I would think that for most people, iMessage is no more than a SMS replacement or extension. Granted when I used a Blackberry I was a heavy BBM user but I never understood why they added video calling to it, other than the fact that BBM was a BlackBerry only thing. I just don't feel like iMessage has the committed user ecosystem to warrant combining it with Facetime because they are two different modes of communication. In the case of BBM, now that it is going cross platform, I can see bringing video messaging along with it but otherwise BBM was becoming (sorry to say this because I want BB to succeed) irrelevant because Blackberry has been and continues to stay in decline. Thanks.
  • No more than? No.
    It's free text messing that syncs and works across mac's iPad's and iPhones. I use it all the time and pick up one conversation I am having on other devices.
    It is also heavily encrypted which no other test messaging is.
    Plus Apple does not store your messages unlike everyone else..especially Google.
    Finally it is integrated unto your iOS or mac device and works with other components.
    Thats a long, long way from just an SMS replacement.
  • I agree with what you are saying. I also use a Mac and iPad as well and I do the same thing with iMessage. But, not every iPhone owner owns a Mac or iPad and I would dare say that most people in this situation don't know the difference between iMessage and a regular SMS other than the color of the message bubbles. They don't understand what it is all about. We also live in a world where the majority of smartphone plans include unlimited voice and text, especially tiered plans so the free messaging part is negated. I guess my further question in this is: Has Apple done enough with iMessage to set it apart and make the common user want to take advantage of its full power and appreciate it as a feature that sets the Apple devices apart like BBM once did for BlackBerry?
  • Facetime audio? Wouldn't that be the actual phone part of the iPhone?
  • I was thinking the same thing, the only thing might be different about it is that if it was to work on wifi you wouldn't have to use cellular minutes
  • Call quality is so much better, you will understand when you actually use it the first time..
  • No, because it makes phone services irrelevant. As long as you have a data service, where you don't pay for minutes, just for bytes, you're good to go. If you're on wifi most of your day, it comes to a point where you won't need a phone service at all.
    The next step is opening a service where you can dial from Facetime to regular phone service, like Skype does. Besides, if you use Facetime you know there is zero privacy, with everything on speakerphone, both parties have to speak up to be understood. With audio only you don't need to be on speaker, and communication becames much better.
  • I already have unlimited minutes for voice calling. And all smartphones plans have limited data, not unlimited data, so I fail to see the benefit of a service like this.
  • Call quality is way better than a call over cellular
  • The only problem I have with Facetime is that it is restricted to Apple devices, so if you want to call someone with an Android device or on a Windows machine you're out of luck. This lack of standards is really tiresome, I wish Facetime could call Skype or whatever through an existing open communication standard, and not force everybody to adhere to an Apple standard if (huge IF) and when it becames available.
  • how about just making the phone call???? i mean, i know its over wifi and wont be counted on your minutes, but really?
  • that's all the counts for some people. What's the issue? Phone calls without using minutes. It's a nice option, you sound like you're offended somehow. I've heard some say the quality is better too.
  • Uh yeah, really. I will use this all the time.
  • I do not have an iPhone (just use cheap pre-paid phones), but am an avid iPad user. So, iMessage are the best ways to contact me at home. I am rarely an arm's length away from my iPad. That being said, I am not a fan of FaceTime as it currently exists. The call quality is hit or miss for me and it drives me nuts walking the background shake while the other person is walking through their house. I would definitely use FaceTime Audio, but right now, I think I have the service disabled in Settings.
  • Isnt there an app for voice calling already? Its called "line".
  • *sigh*
    One of these things is not like the other.
  • Question: If someone on iOS 7 tries to make an audio only Facetime call to an iOS 6 device, what happens? Does it connect, but the iOS 6 person doesn't see any picture? Display an error message saying that you have to connect with another iOS 7 device?
  • Saying "isn't this just a phone call" is like saying "isn't iMessage just an SMS"? Sure, but no. This is free VoIP calling, it'll also presumably work on an iPod touch making it a hell of a VoIP handset. Come on people, I expect better than this! None of you are that deeply in love with carrier voice plan bills, are you?
  • Calls, SMS and MMS are free with most carrier plans in Sweden. We have different plans for data usage. I hope FaceTime calls provides better sound quality, and the ability to call with an iPad, an iPod Touch or a Mac.
  • I had heard that there was supposed to be a "HD Voice" technology that was supposed to be available with iOS 7. I can't remember if that was for VOIP calls (Facetime) or normal voice calls.
  • No, but almost every single carrier has unlimited minutes for voice calls, but not unlimited data.
  • It works of LTE and sounds amazing.
  • I use an iPhone 5 on virgin mobile and have unlimited data mad texting but only 450 minutes... All for only $30/month, better than vzw $110/month for one line. Being that the only thing I have limits on is minutes, ill use this service whenever I'm able to!
  • Very excited about this. My wife and I use Face Time everyday. The quality on our video chats is amazing vs. the usually horrible cell phone call (plus it is fun to see my son everyday from work). Why I am excited is the ability to make calls from my house. Again, horrible "cell" reception. I ended up getting a VoIP service for the house and am using a Google voice app on my iPod touch as a secondary Wi Fi phone...but it is becoming my main home phone because the call quality is that much you can see why Face Time Audio would be useful. I thought about ditching my iPhone completely and using a CLEAR mi fi puck..I have a friend who has done that but uses his ipad as his phone (yes ipad) and he uses the line 2 app for his phone calls. In reality, the only reason I keep my cell plan is because of the data. Plus, I was reading that Face Time Audio will be using HD Voice...which is much better quality than "cell phone".
  • 100% agree. I feel like most people are missing this simple issue. My mobile data isn't free, but my home wifi basically is. I have terrible mobile reception at my house, and being able to make a clear, stable call from my house over a data network is very exciting to me. I also have questions about whether or not it will play nice with other iOS versions and persons not on wifi
  • I have my fingers crossed that it will work on wi fi as well as cellular data. You hit the nail in the head, "most people are missing the point." Face Time has become the normal way my family communicates (yes I had to buy an iPad mini as gifts, for my son who lives in MN (I live in Vegas) and the grandparents of our 2 year old) but it was worth every penny! (SKYPE was not cutting it) They love it. Easy to use high quality video calls, add HD. voice to that for the occasional quick call and it will be perfect. I used to dream about this kinda stuff as a kid (watching the jetsons) and now it is a reality! I just can't believe people are not more aware and just celebrating the tech,and enjoying it, instead of bashing it. Yes,
    I have friends that have Galaxy phones...who never have made a video call...when I show them what I can do with my iPhone and the quality and how easy...they look at me like I fell from another planet! (They never owned anything apple) yes, I know you can get apps etc. to do this...but trust me, not the same when it isn't baked into the hardware. Now the Moto x...I kinda like and I think down the line will be on par because Google will control the hardware and software, like Apple.
  • iOS 7: Can only choose one FaceTime option in contacts Usually in iOS6, I had the option of choosing to FaceTime a mobile phone number or an email. These two options were available no matter if the email and the number was stored under the same contact name. However, after the update, I find that there is only one FaceTime button per contact regardless of how many emails or phone numbers I have stored for that particular contact. The problem here is that sometimes FaceTiming a phone number or an email is different. For example, my sister has an iPhone and an iPad. I would FaceTime her iPhone with her number and FaceTime her iPad with her email. (The same is true for MANY of my contacts). Since there is no option to choose between entries anymore, I have to create separate contacts for the same person in order to FaceTime each of their devices. Smh... Is anyone experiencing this? If so and you've found/know a solution other than creating multiple contacts for the same person please reply. Thanks
  • I have to add that I think this is extremely useful, as with all these features, how useful it is to one person compared to another is totally dependant on what you do. There are times when I don't want to be bothered with video and I want to keep a 'line open' for a long time. A phone call becomes too expensive and Skype is unreliable. I hope the fact that apple are running this means that it 'just works' . I just want a desktop client now so that I can use it with the mac speakers and mic and I'm a happy bunny!