Posts

FaceTime Gains Cool New Features in Apple’s Latest Operating Systems

It’s no exaggeration to say that videoconferencing went mainstream during the pandemic. However, Apple’s FaceTime didn’t stack up well against Zoom and others due to its emulation of the telephone call experience, questionable interface decisions, and lack of cross-platform compatibility. However, with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey, Apple has nearly brought FaceTime into feature parity with Zoom and others and it has even added a few features that break new ground.

FaceTime Links

One of the smallest new features in FaceTime may be the most important. No longer do you have to call others via FaceTime, an awkward approach left over from the days of landlines. That’s still possible, but it’s easier and more considerate to make and share a FaceTime link instead, which lets others join your call when they’re ready. FaceTime links make it effortless to rejoin a call if you have to drop off or if something goes wrong, and they simplify switching from one device to another. You can share FaceTime links like any other Web link, through Messages, email, discussion systems like Slack, or posting on a Web page.

To create a FaceTime link, launch the FaceTime app and use the Create Link button in the upper left. If you’re creating it in iOS 15 or iPadOS 15, you can add a name before copying or sharing the link in the share sheet. In Monterey, clicking the button presents a sharing menu with similar appropriate options.

To join a call, all a recipient of the link has to do is tap or click the link. If they’re running one of Apple’s latest operating systems, the call will also appear in the FaceTime app, under Upcoming.

Either way, people joining the call get a preview window in which they can adjust their video and mic settings. After they hit the Join button, the organizer is notified that they’re waiting and can add them to the call. (That may seem like an unnecessary extra step, but it ensures random trolls can’t join FaceTime calls whose links have been shared publicly.)

If you’re scheduling a call, you can create a FaceTime link within an event in Calendar. That’s handy to make sure you have the link available at the right time, to make it available on all your devices, and to let others access it via a shared calendar. Use the Location or Video Call field, and select FaceTime when it’s offered. The event then gets a Join button that makes it easy to access the call. (If you’re sharing the calendar with someone who isn’t using one of Apple’s latest operating systems, they’ll just see a link they can click.)

Despite being associated with an event, such FaceTime links aren’t time-specific. You can start the call any time you want, and anyone else can attempt to join it at any time, but they’ll be able to get in only if you as the organizer let them in. So it won’t do them any good to join before or after the scheduled time.

FaceTime Web App

FaceTime links are also essential for allowing FaceTime calls to include those who aren’t running Apple’s latest operating systems. If you’re still on macOS 11 Big Sur or iOS 14, opening a FaceTime link switches to Safari and opens the FaceTime Web app. That also works for those using Android, Windows, or Linux, as long as they have a compatible Web browser, which means Google Chrome or another Chrome-based browser like Brave or Microsoft Edge. Firefox won’t work.

For the most part, the FaceTime Web app works just like the native FaceTime app, with the ability to change basic camera and microphone settings and support for grid view. There are two notable limitations:

  • FaceTime Web app users can only join calls, not initiate them.
  • Advanced options like the mic modes and video effects aren’t available.

Mic Modes and Video Effects

In an effort to catch up with the likes of Zoom, Apple added several audio and video features to FaceTime. There are now three mic modes that you can enable in Control Center during a call:

  • Standard: FaceTime does nothing special to the audio.
  • Voice Isolation: FaceTime focuses on your voice, working to eliminate non-vocal sounds and other background noise.
  • Wide Spectrum: FaceTime expands its attention to all the sounds in the room, which is essential for things like music lessons.

Although the equivalent Control Center button is labeled Video Effects, there’s only one at the moment: Portrait mode. It works exactly as it does in the Camera app for photos, keeping you in focus and blurring the background. Perhaps Apple will add other video effects in the future, much like Zoom’s virtual backgrounds and immersive sets. You can also toggle Portrait mode by tapping the Video Effects button in your FaceTime tile.

The Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum mic modes, and the Portrait mode video effect, are available only on iPhones and iPads that have an A12 Bionic chip or later, or an M1 chip. Similarly, they work only on M1-based Macs, not older Intel-based Macs.

Grid View

When Apple first introduced FaceTime group calls, participants’ tiles would swim around on the screen, moving and expanding to indicate who was speaking. It was dizzying. Happily, Apple finally listened to annoyed users and has now introduced a simple grid view like every other videoconferencing app on the planet.

Once there are four or more participants in a call on an iPhone or iPad, a Grid button appears when you tap the screen to reveal the FaceTime controls. Tap it to switch into or out of grid view. In Monterey, there’s an always-visible Grid button in the upper-right corner.

Screen Sharing for iPhones and iPads

As helpful as FaceTime links are, our favorite new feature of FaceTime is screen sharing for those using an iPhone or iPad. (Macs can’t currently participate in FaceTime screen sharing but have their own screen sharing capabilities, accessed through the Conversations menu in Messages.) With a couple of taps, you can share your screen with someone else, or they can share their screen with you, all while maintaining the video call. For many remote workers, this feature is essential, whether you are collaborating on a project or showing your work to your boss. Another obvious use is remote tech support. If someone is having trouble accomplishing something on their iPhone or iPad, you can see what’s going wrong live on a FaceTime call. And kids, no doubt, will find many fun things to do together.

To share your screen during a FaceTime call, tap anywhere on the screen to reveal the FaceTime controls, tap the screen sharing button on the right, and tap the Share My Screen confirmation prompt. After a 3-second countdown, others on the call can see your screen, even as you switch away from the FaceTime app and use your iPhone or iPad however you want.

While you’re sharing your screen, a purple status icon reminds you that others can see what you’re doing. To stop sharing your screen, tap someone’s video tile to switch back to the FaceTime app and tap the screen sharing button again.

When someone shares their screen with you, a Picture-in-Picture (PiP) window of their screen appears. Tap it to expand it to the entire screen, moving the FaceTime call video to its own PiP window. Tap that FaceTime PiP window to return to the call. If you switch to another app, as shown below, the shared screen returns to being a PiP window. If any PiP window is in your way, you can drag it to another corner or swipe it off the screen to the left or right to hide it entirely. A tab appears to indicate the hidden PiP window; tap it to bring the window back.

SharePlay

People will either love SharePlay or ignore it entirely. It enables everyone on a FaceTime call to watch the same video or listen to the same audio while continuing the conversation. The big caveat is that everyone must have legal access to the content, which generally means a subscription to whatever service is being used, whether that’s Apple Music, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO MAX, or Paramount+. Currently, SharePlay works only in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 and on the Apple TV running tvOS 15. It’s slated to appear in a future version of Monterey, perhaps 12.1.

Initiating a SharePlay session is easy: simply navigate to Apple’s TV or Music app, or another app that supports SharePlay, and start playing something. You may be asked if you want to play it for everyone or just for yourself, or you may be told the content will play automatically. Assuming everyone on the call has the necessary subscription, the audio or video starts playing instantly.

What’s a little freaky about SharePlay is that, with one minor exception, everyone is an equal participant. If you start playing something, someone else can pause it or rewind it, say, and the video will pause or rewind for everyone. The exception is that only the person who started playing a video can stop it (tap the screen to reveal the controls), although anyone can start playing something else to replace it.

If you have an Apple TV, you can initiate video playback from the Apple TV or move something that’s already playing to the Apple TV. While you’re on a FaceTime call on your iPhone or iPad, press and hold the TV button on the Apple TV’s remote to open Control Center, and then select the SharePlay button that appears there to get started.

With all these new features, it’s time to rethink how you use FaceTime, and that’s especially true if you haven’t been using FaceTime because it lacked the features in some other videoconferencing app.

(Featured image by iStock.com/jacoblund)


Social Media: FaceTime has joined the big leagues in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey. Read on to learn about FaceTime links, its cross-platform Web app, special mic modes and video effects, grid view, screen sharing, and SharePlay.

New Features You May Have Missed in the iOS 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 Updates

We’ve published overviews of the major features in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, along with detailed looks at our favorite features. But Apple keeps releasing updates with new features, and we wanted to take a moment to catch you up on what Apple has added in versions 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3. (If you’re running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, you should update to the latest version, which is 14.3 as of this writing. There’s no benefit to staying at an interim version.)

Here’s what you may have missed.

Apple Fitness+

The highest-profile change in Apple’s recent updates is support for Apple Fitness+. It provides studio-style streamed video workouts that you can participate in using an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. The linchpin of the system is the Apple Watch, which tracks your fitness metrics and progress and stores them in the Fitness app (previously called Activity).

Apple Fitness+, which can be shared by up to six family members through Family Sharing, costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. All current owners of an Apple Watch Series 3 or later get a free month to try it out, and if you buy a new Apple Watch, Apple will give you 3 months for free.

If you have an Apple Watch and more exercise figured in your New Year’s resolutions, give Apple Fitness+ a try and see if you find it fun and worthwhile.

Intercom

Tired of yelling to get the attention of other members of your household? If you have two more HomePod speakers, you can use the new Intercom feature to send and receive messages through the HomePods. You can also send and receive messages through an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, or in your car with CarPlay.

To enable Intercom, open the Home app, tap the house icon at the upper left ➊, and tap Home Settings. In the Settings screen, tap Intercom ➋ and set when you want to receive notifications, who should be allowed to send and receive them when away from home, and which HomePods to use.

Once you’ve enabled Intercom, you can most easily invoke it with Siri on any of your devices using trigger words like “intercom,” “tell,” “announce,” or “ask.” You can also send messages solely to a HomePod in a specific room or zone by specifying its name in the message. For example:

“Hey Siri, announce ‘It’s time to leave now!’”
“Hey Siri, ask upstairs ‘Did anyone feed the fish?’”

You can also access Intercom from within the Home app. Tap the waveform button in the upper-right corner of the screen (➌ above), record your message, and tap the Done button to send it.

When you hear an Intercom message, you can reply. If the message went to the entire Home, your reply will as well. However, if the message was sent to your specific room, your response will go only to the device that sent the message. And you can always direct a reply to a particular speaker. For example:

“Hey Siri, reply ‘I’m almost ready to go, honest!’”
“Hey Siri, reply downstairs ‘Yes, I fed Goldie.’”

Loud Headphone Alerts

If you’re worried about damaging your hearing with too-loud headphone volumes (and you should be), go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Headphone Safety. There you can enable a notification that will tell you if you exceed the recommended limit for noise exposure (volume and time) as set by the World Health Organization.

That’s nice from a retrospective point of view, but more useful are the controls below, which let your iPhone actively protect your hearing by reducing the volume of sounds over a certain decibel level.

Optimized AirPods Pro Charging

Apple says that it has now tweaked AirPods Pro charging to increase the lifespan of the battery. It does this by delaying charging past 80% to reduce the amount of time the batteries stay fully charged. Apple previously did this with the iPhone and Apple Watch. Given that there’s no way to replace the battery in the AirPods Pro, anything that extends their useful life is welcome. Sadly, this feature isn’t available for the standard AirPods. If you find that the feature regularly prevents your AirPods Pro from having a full charge, you can turn it off in Settings > Bluetooth (make sure the AirPods Pro case is open or they’re in your ears). Tap the i button next to your AirPods Pro and turn off Optimized Battery Charging.

Launch Shortcuts on the Home Screen Directly

In iOS 14, the Shortcuts app lets users assign custom icons to shortcuts, which has led some to become obsessed with customizing their Home screens with shortcuts that launch their favorite apps. Dedicated designers have created all sorts of Home screen looks, ranging from the minimalist to the wacky. The only problem was that these shortcuts first launched the Shortcuts app and then switched to the desired destination app. As of iOS 14.3, shortcuts now launch directly from the Home screen without passing through the Shortcuts app.

Use Ecosia as Safari’s Default Search Engine

Want to move away from Google as your default search engine? iOS has long provided other options, including Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing, and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. Apple has now added Ecosia, which is privacy-friendly and donates 80% or more of its profits to non-profit organizations that focus on reforestation. It’s a small way you can help fight climate change. It’s worth keeping in mind that Yahoo is a rebadged version of Bing, DuckDuckGo relies heavily on Bing, and Ecosia delivers results from Bing, enhanced by its own algorithms. In other words, when it comes to the quality of the search results, your choices are really between Google and Bing.

New Privacy Labels in the App Store

In Apple’s latest salvo against privacy-abusing apps and services, the company now requires all developers to provide information in App Store listings about what data collected by the app is linked to you personally and what data will be used to track your online movements. Apple doesn’t verify the information, and there’s no way to know if the developer is being truthful. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Apple pushing developers to be more transparent about their privacy practices. In the screenshot below, compare the ten screens of App Privacy details for what Facebook hoovers up with what is collected by the privacy-focused messaging app Signal: just your phone number, which is necessary for others to contact you.

App Clip Codes

In non-pandemic times, the new App Clips feature of iOS 14 might have gotten more attention. App Clips are lightweight versions of an app that let people perform quick tasks—ordering a latte, renting a scooter—without downloading and configuring the full app. Apple encourages developers using App Clips to advertise their presence with App Clip Codes, which look a little like QR codes but are dedicated to launching App Clips. Now that iOS 14.3 has added support for App Clip Codes, if you notice one while you’re out and about, try scanning it with your camera to see what App Clip pops up.

iOS 14’s updates have added plenty of smaller features as well, such as over 100 new emojis, an Apple TV+ tab in the Apple TV app, additional data options in the Health app’s Cycle Tracking feature, air quality data and recommendations in more countries, and detection of people in Magnifier (which is helpful for users who are blind or who have low vision).

So if you have kept your iPhone or iPad up to date but haven’t noticed these new features, give them a try!

(Featured image based on an original Web page by Apple)


Social Media: iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 came out a few months ago, but Apple has been busy since with feature-laden updates. Here’s what you may have missed in the 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 updates.

Apple’s New AirPods Pro Offer Active Noise Cancellation and Better Fit

Are you a fan of Apple’s AirPods, or have you had trouble with them staying in your ears? Either way, you might like the just-released AirPods Pro, which offer a new design with three sizes of soft, flexible, silicone ear tips and welcome new capabilities. The ear tips should make the AirPods Pro fit better for more people, and an Ear Tip Fit Test will tell you which size is right for your ears. The hot new feature is Active Noise Cancellation mode, which significantly cuts down on the background din of planes, trains, and automobiles. Alternatively, Transparency mode reduces surrounding noise while still letting you hear important announcements and stay aware of the environment around you. And, of course, Apple promises superior sound quality. The AirPods Pro cost $249 and come with a Wireless Charging Case.

(Featured image by Apple)