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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.

The Ten Upcoming Mac/iPhone/iPad Features We Think You’ll Most Like

At its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote on June 7th, Apple shared details about what we can expect to see later this year in macOS 12 Monterey, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, tvOS 15, and HomePod Software 15. It was a firehose of announcements, but one thing became clear: Apple wants to spread its technologies across its entire ecosystem of devices. Although each platform—Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and HomePod—retains its unique qualities, nearly every feature that the company announced works across as many platforms as make sense.

Before we get into the ten features that we think you’ll most like when everything ships in September or October, we should note that Apple was surprisingly silent on one topic: future Apple silicon chips. Many observers had expected Apple to announce an M1X or M2 chip that would power professional laptop and desktop Macs. We’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the impressive performance of the M1-based Macs we have now and wait a little longer for whatever comes next.

On to the hot new features!

Account Recovery and Legacy Contacts Simplify Recovering Account Data

It’s all too common that people forget their Apple ID passwords and can’t access their accounts. Apple hopes to make that a little less stressful with Account Recovery Contacts. Specify someone as your Account Recovery Contact, and they’ll be able to help you reset your password and regain access to your account, with no need to call us or Apple for assistance.

Also welcome will be the addition of Legacy Contacts. Once this feature is available, everyone should make sure they have appropriate family members or friends set as Legacy Contacts. Then, in the event of your untimely death, your Legacy Contacts can access your account and personal information. Using Legacy Contacts will be far easier than having to provide the legal paperwork to Apple to request access to a deceased family member’s accounts.

FaceTime Gains Features That Make It Competitive with Zoom

During the last year, we’ve all spent vastly more time in videoconferencing apps for work, school, and socializing. Alas, Apple’s FaceTime has been a weak entry in that market. With the features Apple is now promising, however, it should compete well with the likes of Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet. FaceTime will finally get a standard grid view, blur your backgrounds with Portrait mode, and offer two microphone modes: Voice Isolation to cut down on background noise (for standard meetings) and Wide Spectrum to leave ambient sound unfiltered (for performances, say). FaceTime will even be able to alert you when you’re talking but muted.

More important yet is the fact that you’ll finally be able to invite Windows and Android users to FaceTime calls using standard Web links. Non-Apple users will have to use a Chrome-based browser like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Brave. Plus, when you create an event in Calendar, you’ll be able to make a Web link for the call that you can share. And when it’s time for the call, a Join button makes it easy to get in.

Universal Control Lets Macs and iPads Share a Keyboard and Pointing Device

With Sidecar in macOS 10.15 Catalina and iOS 13, Apple made it so you could use an iPad as a secondary screen for a Mac. In macOS 12 Monterey and iPadOS 15, Apple is taking that concept further. With Universal Control, if you merely set a Mac and an iPad next to each other, you’ll be able to use the Mac’s keyboard and mouse or trackpad to work between the two devices (in fact, Universal Control supports up to three). No setup is required—just move your pointer to the edge of the Mac screen and push it “through” the edge to move it to the iPad screen. You can even drag and drop content between devices.

Live Text Lets You Work with Text in Images

Have you ever taken a photo of something just to capture a phone number or address? We have, for sure. Apple’s new Live Text feature treats text in images just like text you type, so you can use functions like copy and paste, lookup, and translate. Live Text will work in Photos, of course, but also in Quick Look, Safari, and Screenshot, and in live Camera previews on the iPhone. It’s an impressive use of image recognition technologies.

Along the same lines, in Photos, you’ll also be able to use the information button on any photo to highlight recognized objects and scenes and get additional information about them. Apple says you’ll be able to learn more about popular art and landmarks, plants and flowers, books, and pet breeds.

Siri Gets Faster, More Reliable, More Private, and More Useful

Thanks to the ever-increasing power of the Neural Engine in Apple devices, Apple says it will bring all processing of Siri requests onto your device. That may not sound like a big deal, but it means that Siri should work faster, more reliably, and more privately. It will be faster because there’s no need to send speech to and from Apple’s servers for processing. It will make Siri work more reliably when your iPhone doesn’t have strong cell service and enable offline support for many types of requests. And Apple won’t know what you’re saying at all.

Other Siri improvements will include the capability to announce reminders when you’re wearing AirPods, improved conversation context so you can refer to what you just asked, and support for controlling HomeKit devices at specific times. HomeKit developers will even be able to add Siri support to their products through a HomePod.

Improved Multitasking Controls Come to the iPad

The big problem with Apple’s multitasking options on the iPad has been remembering how to use them. With iPadOS 15, Apple hopes to solve that with a new menu that will appear at the top of apps, with buttons for entering full screen, Split View, or Slide Over.

Apple also added a new multiwindow shelf that appears at the bottom of the screen at launch and provides a Dock-like view of all the open windows in that app. If you ignore it, it fades away quickly, but it should help you remember which windows you have open and access them quickly.

The iPad Finally Gets the App Library and Home Screen Widgets

Last year, in iOS 14, Apple introduced the App Library and Home Screen widgets. The App Library holds all your apps so you can declutter your life by removing them from the Home Screen. And Home Screen widgets let you add app-specific widgets that provide at-a-glance information. Sadly, iPadOS 14 didn’t include those features.

iPadOS 15 rectifies that oversight, adding both the App Library and Home Screen widgets, complete with some larger widget sizes for the larger iPad screen. They’ll work just like on the iPhone. It’s about time!

Locate Lost AirPods Pro and AirPods Max with Find My Network Support

As it stands now, you can theoretically find AirPods using the Find My app. However, it shows only the last position of the AirPods at a general level, and you have to get within range of them to play a sound. In the future, however, the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max will support the Find My network, so other people’s devices can report their location generally, and once you get within Bluetooth range, you can play a sound to locate them.

Hopefully, that will happen less often thanks to new separation alerts that, when enabled, will alert you when you leave an Apple device, AirTag, or Find My-compatible item behind.

Private Relay Protects Safari Traffic for iCloud+ Subscribers

Apple has been adding lots of privacy-protecting features over the past few years, but Private Relay goes even further to ensure that even your ISP can’t track where you go on the Web and sell that data to advertisers. Private Relay encrypts your Safari traffic and passes it through two Internet relays. No one—not even Apple—can then use your IP address, location, and browsing activity to create a detailed profile of you. Everyone who pays for extra iCloud storage will transition to the new iCloud+ for the same cost and will get Private Relay for no additional fee.

While we’re talking about iCloud, Apple also says that you’ll be able to get custom domain names for iCloud Mail addresses and invite family members to use the same domain with their iCloud Mail accounts.

Use AirPlay to Send Audio or Video to Your Mac

Many people have discovered how neat it is to use AirPlay to display photos or videos from an iPhone or iPad on a TV attached to an Apple TV. Macs could also broadcast their displays to an Apple TV. But what you couldn’t do is use AirPlay to send audio or video from another Apple device to a Mac. With macOS 12 Monterey, that will become possible, enabling you to use a Mac’s large screen to play a video, share a Keynote presentation, and more.

Apple’s upcoming operating system releases boast many other new features, and we plan to explore more of them once everything ships in a few months. We’ll let you know when it’s time to update!

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: At its Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, Apple announced a boatload of new features that we’ll see in macOS 12 Monterey, iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8 later this year. Here are the ten features we think you’ll most like:

Stop Group FaceTime Video Tiles from Bouncing with Recent Apple OS Updates

Since iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple has supported Group FaceTime, which lets you have a video call with up to 32 people. However, as has become painfully obvious in today’s era of non-stop videoconferencing, Group FaceTime has a feature that some find obnoxious: automatic speaking prominence that causes the video tile for the speaker to grow and move around. Happily, Apple finally took the feedback and added options to disable that feature in iOS 13.5, iPadOS 13.5, and macOS 10.15.5 Catalina. In iOS and iPadOS, disable the Speaking option under Automatic Prominence in Settings > FaceTime; on the Mac, look in FaceTime > Preferences.

(Featured image portions by FotoRieth, Jenny Friedrichs, Ron Porter, and Pexels from Pixabay)

Apple Has Disabled Group FaceTime to Prevent Pre-call Eavesdropping

A serious bug has been discovered in Apple’s Group FaceTime multi-person video chat technology. It allows someone to call you via FaceTime and then, with just a few simple steps, listen in on audio from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac while the call is ringing, before you have accepted or rejected it. To prevent the problem from being exploited, Apple says it has disabled Group FaceTime and promises a fix “later this week.”

In the meantime, if you’re still concerned (there were some reports of people being able to invoke the bug even after Apple disabled Group FaceTime), we recommend turning off FaceTime entirely in Settings > FaceTime in iOS and by launching the FaceTime app in macOS and then choosing FaceTime > Turn FaceTime Off. (Or just be quiet when a FaceTime call comes in.) Apple may be able to fix the problem without requiring users to update software; if iOS and macOS updates do prove to be necessary, we recommend that you install them sooner rather than later.