With iOS 17 now available to all with an iPhone XS and above, alongside iPadOS 17 and watchOS 10, using the new FaceTime feature in tvOS 17 is the feature that has really surprised me the most this year. And for positive reasons!
I’ve owned an Apple TV 4K for a few short months, and I’ve enjoyed using tvOS, the software it’s powered by, a lot. From using it to look at the smart home camera feeds all around our house to using AirPlay so our iPhones and iPads connect to the TV with ease, it’s a fun, useful device.
Apple TV 4K is also much faster when it comes to browsing all the shows and apps it offers, unlike the software built into my LG TV which takes too long to load up something as simple as YouTube.
But it was FaceTime in tvOS 17 that has now really sold the device for me. And it’s made me wonder if it’s finally a powerful competitor to Skype and Zoom calls from this one lone feature.
FaceTime to the Future
I’ve used Apple’s calling feature ever since it debuted in 2010 with iPhone 4. Being able to video call someone has always been fun to do, and its updates in recent years with group calls and gestures have been great.
So imagine my surprise when I suddenly saw a FaceTime icon on my Apple TV home screen appearing weeks before the expected launch date of the feature.
Setting it up was an easy affair. After selecting the icon, a notification appears on another of your devices that’s already been updated to iOS 17 and iPadOS 17. Once you press this, tvOS finds your iPhone or iPad, takes control of its camera, and suddenly you’re on the TV in a FaceTime window that looks similar to its iPadOS version. You select who you want to call from your device, and you’re good to go.
Calling my niece after her first day back to school was great, as we had the iPad in front of the TV, so she could essentially see us looking at her directly, instead of at an angle.
FaceTime now recognizes gestures and will accompany them with AR animations. The new gestures you can do with your hands this year, such as heart and thumbs up, worked the first time, and they came through on the call instantly, which was a nice touch.
Once we hung up, I was surprised at how seamlessly the whole process had worked, and it made me wonder if Apple now has a powerful, enterprise-ready video-calling competitor, ready to take on the likes of Zoom and Google Meet.
Many of us remember the group calls and games that we would take part in during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I joined my fair share — taking part in pub quizzes and being close to last place was still a fun time, but it was all carried out over Zoom.
This was before Apple allowed FaceTime drop-in links to be generated, allowing anyone to join FaceTime calls with access to the link. As this was only made available in 2022, apps like Zoom and Skype were the best alternative for this at the time, with FaceTime in large part missing the COVID-19 video calling boom period.
But if tvOS support had been available in 2020, I could have easily been using FaceTime on Apple TV for more quizzes and watch-alongs.
This one feature enables something that usually requires a TV to have a camera built-in (or at least compatible with external cameras — a relative rarity in home entertainment systems) in order to replicate.
But Apple did it in one software update for anyone that has an iPhone or iPad plus that streaming box — which, considering Apple’s linked device ecosystem, you’ll assume will be most Apple TV owners. It might be the best use of Apple’s HandOff functionality we’ve seen so far.
It’s an ingenious way to bring video calling to the living room, and it saves the hassle for many in setting a call up on a TV. This is a feature that we’re planning on using a lot more throughout the year. I hope to see Apple improve it even further; perhaps by letting you take a FaceTime call while you play an Apple Arcade game on Apple TV with others for instance.
But whatever Apple decides to do next, FaceTime is a home run on tvOS. In one fell swoop, it’s justified using Apple TV as not only our main method of watching content but also connecting with friends and family too.
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Daryl is iMore's Features Editor, overseeing long-form and in-depth articles and op-eds. Daryl loves using his experience as both a journalist and Apple fan to tell stories about Apple's products and its community, from the apps we use everyday to the products that have been long forgotten in the Cupertino archives.
Previously Software & Downloads Writer at TechRadar, and Deputy Editor at StealthOptional, he's also written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', which tells the story of the beginnings of Lara Croft and the series' early development. He's also written for many other publications including WIRED, MacFormat, Bloody Disgusting, VGC, GamesRadar, Nintendo Life, VRV Blog, The Loop Magazine, SUPER JUMP, Gizmodo, Film Stories, TopTenReviews, Miketendo64 and Daily Star.
I love this trend. In 2020 I couldn't understand why Apple TV, Roku and Amazon weren't racing to add support for external webcams. Using a phone, especially wirelessly, is even more ideal. You can keep the phone closer to you for better mic input (or put it near the TV so it doesn't appear that you're staring off into space, and use a Bluetooth speaker near you for even better mic performance).Reply
I finally realized during lockdown that I could do wireless web chats via a Samsung Note 20. It has a full desktop experience called DeX (not unlike Stage Manager on an external monitor), and connects wirelessly to Roku or smart TV's like my LG, or via a USB-C cable. I have a tabletop tripod with a phone/tablet mount that works great for leveling the camera. And since it's just Android, it works with Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, Signal, WhatsApp... anything except Facetime of course. Call quality is solid, and this works with any TV that has an HDMI cable or newer smart features, so good for traveling.
But what we quickly realized was, we don't want to see our family and friends at 65 inches! Eww! We now just put an iPad in the tripod mount, sometimes with bluetooth speakers.