The rise of Zoom could be the headline for the 2020 technology scene. Zoom has replaced classrooms, board meetings, concerts, and even some low budget sporting events. What I find interesting about Zoom is how it took off for video communications while we had other services that were better in a lot of ways. I particularly want to look at FaceTime during COVID-19, and how despite having a nearly decade long existence and being built into every iOS and macOS device, it didn’t have its ‘Zoom’ moment, and why Zoom became the new default group video service.
It doesn’t work on Windows, Android, and the web
Despite FaceTime being built into all of Apple’s hardware, that does limit anyone using Windows, Android, and Chromebooks. While not that popular in the general enterprise, Chromebooks are very popular in K–12 education, so FaceTime wouldn’t be functional for them. Because FaceTime doesn’t work on Android, group chats between friends cannot happen unless everyone is on the iPhone. iMessage, on the other hand, falls back to SMS when someone in a group message has Android. Imagine if iPhones couldn’t work with group chats with Android users? The lack of cross-platform support is a key reason FaceTime during COVID-19 was somewhat of an afterthought.
FaceTime can’t schedule meetings
I think one of the biggest reasons no one used FaceTime during COVID-19 for meetings is because you can schedule a meeting in Zoom and send out the link ahead of time. With FaceTime, you have to initiate the call manually at the predetermined time. FaceTime also requires the use of an Apple ID or phone number. I’ve had multiple audio-only Zoom meetings with people that I don’t necessarily want to have my phone number or even Apple ID in the future.
FaceTime can’t record meetings
Business customers will often record Zoom calls to be archived for those that can’t make it. FaceTime doesn’t have a built-in way to record audio or video calls. For compliance reasons, many internal organization Zoom calls are required to be recorded. Apple could enable all participants to consent to the meeting to be recorded, upload to the hosts’ iCloud account, and provide everyone in attendance a link to download afterward.
Starting a Group FaceTime is awkward
Starting a Group FaceTime call can be slightly awkward unless you have each person in your address book. You can start it from a Group iMessage, which is great for friends, but that isn’t going to scale well for people using it for enterprise needs. You can also use the FaceTime app, but again, you’ll need the Apple ID or cell phone number of each person. In reality, FaceTime calling should be built right into email similar to the way it is for Spike. Email, audio calls, and video calls should all be integrated tightly together.
FaceTime During COVID-19
Apple has lost the chance during COVID–19 to pivot FaceTime to encompass some of the features of Zoom, but I think some of the security failures of Zoom should guide them going forward. The first thing is to add the ability to preschedule FaceTime calls by scheduling a calendar appointment. The calendar appointment could then be shared with all the people in the meeting.
FaceTime should also be on the web, Windows, and Android. Even if the apps were bare-bones, cross-platform compatibility is going to be required going forward. Finally, Apple should add the ability to record meetings and offer to save to iCloud (managed Apple ID support would be great for K–12 and enterprise), or save locally so it can be shared.
FaceTime is an excellent service. It works well, it’s secure, and the brand has substantial value. Zoom, on the other hand, has dealt with plenty of security issues in the past. They’ve nailed the ease of use, though. It’s easy to start meetings with dozens of people, it’s easy to schedule meetings, and it works on the web, iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows. For Apple to make headway with FaceTime as a brand for group video chats, the service needs to evolve past what it is today and prepare for the future.
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