FaceTime

Meet Manveer. I’ve known him since I was in the 6th grade. Somewhere around the 8th grade we started a ritual of calling each other every day after school and talking about video games, computers and dumb things that happened at school. We talked on the phone for hours. Back in those days we would even play the same game on separate computers while talking on the phone. It was a precursor to voice chat in gaming networks like Steam or Xbox Live. It was ridiculous amounts of fun.


Manveer is up in the corner, the crazy guy is yours truly

Tonight Manveer and I FaceTimed. It’s the feature I wish we had when we were back in middle school. These days it’s a lot harder to explain why you’ve got some random dude’s face on your phone talking to you about completely pointless things at 12:54AM on a Tuesday night. I spent part of the chat covering one of the lights in my room with my head and calling it an Anand Head Eclipse. At the risk of further embarrassing myself publicly, it was fun.

For those of you who don’t know, FaceTime is Apple’s VoIP protocol built into the iPhone 4.

Granted we’ve been able to do this sort of thing for quite a while now over instant messenger networks. Integration into your smartphone is just the next logical step, and in the right conditions it works very well.

The first requirement is that both users need to have an iPhone 4 obviously. Both also need to be on WiFi. While the FaceTime icon will appear if you call another iPhone 4, if you try to activate the connection you’ll get this error unless you’re on WiFi:

With a bit of poor UI design Apple will actually display a FaceTime icon with a question mark in it if you call another iOS phone. Trying to activate FaceTime however gives you an error.

FaceTime requires roughly 100 - 150Kbps of bandwidth in both directions to work smoothly. The download should be fine but the upload is pretty high given that many broadband providers in the US are ridiculously stingy with their upload bandwidth. For FaceTime to work well you can’t be uploading or downloading anything large in the background, or if you are just throttle everything else to give you enough bandwidth to work with.

The next problem with FaceTime is the iPhone 4 lacks an absolutely necessary integrated stand. HTC got it perfect with the EVO 4G, unfortunately the 4 has no such thing. The closest you can get is Apple’s iPhone 4 dock, it’ll set you back $29 but it’s necessary to prevent you from getting tired holding your phone out in front of you. Laying the 4 down on your desk while you FaceTime just gives the person on the other end of the line a great view of your nostrils. Not very welcoming.


This is the on-table view of FaceTime, you need a stand

Even once you’ve met all of the requirements it’s still not a guaranteed thing. Even with ample bandwidth I had one FaceTime chat stall in the middle of the chat. My incoming feed froze and I had to wait a couple of seconds for it to resume. I also had a problem where FaceTime would fail to start on the first try. A subsequent try fixed it.

As you'll see in our camera investigation, the low light performance of the 4's front facing camera is horrid. Couple that with FaceTime and you will get bad image quality if you're not in a well lit room:


Ugh, what is this, 1998?

While in FaceTime you can easily switch between front and rear cameras by tapping the camera icon in the lower right corner. Unfortunately the compression on the video is enough to render text illegible while in FaceTime:


This was taken using the rear facing camera over FT

Obviously everyone knows where FaceTime is going. Apple is supposedly opening the protocol up to all developers, so you’d be able to theoretically build desktop and other smartphone FaceTime clients. And ultimately as mobile broadband speeds (hello WiMAX and LTE) improve the WiFi requirement will be dropped. But is it a good feature today?

It really depends on who you know with an iPhone 4. If you’ve got a Manveer, absolutely - the feature is worth it. If you have a bunch of casual acquaintances with iPhone 4s, probably not. It’s only useful if you know the person on the other side very well.

There is one other major benefit to FaceTime. Once enabled your call is routed over WiFi to the Internet, not AT&T’s 3G network. It doesn’t use any of your plan’s minutes and more importantly, voice quality is much improved over a regular 3G/EDGE phone call. It’s VoIP, not a crappy cell connection. Even if you just cover the camera it’s actually better to make calls over FaceTime than 3G based on the sound quality alone.

Camera Usability Sidebar: Luxa2 H1-Touch, a Great FaceTime Stand
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  • Spoelie - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    You have to understand that that list was NOT originally compiled as a comparison to Android but was the negative part of a "what can you expect with this upgrade" (positives vs negatives) list. The iOS4 upgrade is offered on the 3G and that's why the point has merit: what does the upgrade mean for 3G users?

    However I concur it can read as a comparison since most of these points are Android features on SOME phones (social networking integration for example is mostly part of the proprietary custom UIs like HTC Sense and TouchWiz and not part of Android itself).

    Personally, since I do have an Android phone, it reads more like a "what would I miss if I made the switch" list. But only some of the points.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Thats a really idiotic list composed by someone who knows nothing about iPhones.

    -Anyone who wants flash on a mobile device is not paying attention.
    -Comments on IOS4 on the 3G are silly. Especially since Apple says its not supported except on the 3GS and 4. Funny how they don't comment on how many Android phones are still on 1.6 and will never be upgraded including some pretty new phones.
    -"True' multi-tasking? I don't think they understand how Android multi-tasking works. It's certainly not "true" multi-tasking as on a desktop os. It's also highly inefficient and a major cause of poor Android phone battery life.
    -Android phones have widgets, which are intrusive and resource consuming because the stock Android OS UI is so awful.
    -There are plenty of ways to USB mass storage with the iPhone.
    -You can mass mark e-mails as read.
    -There are plenty of ways to access the file system not that 99% of users will ever want to.
    -You don't need vibration feedback when touching the screen because the iPhone screen, unlike many Android phones, actually reacts easily to touch.
    -You can do bluetooth file transfers.
    -SMS/MMS has multiple delivery notifications.
    -I play Xvid and Divx all the time and there are multiple third party apps for that.
    -You can add to the iPhone from other apps including Double Twist and others.

    Truly an idiotic list.
    Reply
  • bplewis24 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Whether or not the list is idiotic, you just solidified your own standing with this post. I'm not sure why I even bothered posting to such an idiotic retort.

    Brandon
    Reply
  • mesiah - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    lmao, not to sound like an android fanboy, or even an apple.... haterboy (hmmm new term there.) But your reasoning for alot of those missing features just further backs up the apple fan stereo type.

    Any time an apple device lacks a feature its because "That feature is not needed.' "That feature is useless." or how about "Anyone who wants ___ isn't paying attention."

    But when the next gen phone comes out, and it finally does have those features. You know, the ones everyone else already had and you said you didn't need. You know, like... a camera. You then talk about how your new feature reinvents the phone its self. How "no one has ever done it like apple did."

    Seriously, its pathetic. I know every phone out there has flaws. I also know there are plenty of things apple gets right with the iphone. I will even go as far to admit that smart phones wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for the iphone. But you people need to admit when you are missing features you should obviously have simply because the all knowing Steve doesn't think you need them. But then again, coming from a company that can admit no wrong, even when their products have a serious design flaw such as the new antenna issue, I can't really expect the followers to act any differently than the ceo.

    "If you want flash you aren't paying attention. If your reception went through the basement you don't know how to hold a phone. And if the AT&T network sucks its because you and all the other people are actually trying to use it."
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    One of my friends on facebook posted a screenshot of one of iOS4's great new features...

    ...you can change your wallpaper. Really?
    Reply
  • bregalad - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    -There are two main reasons to keep Flash off mobile devices: battery life and mouse-overs, a commonly used Flash feature that doesn't work on a touch OS. Given the choice between incomplete support for a resource intensive plug-in and all-day usefulness I'll take that all-day battery life.
    -Multitasking approaches still up for debate
    -iOS 4 runs slowly and lacks features on older hardware - agreed, but does Android do any better? Does your carrier even allow you to upgrade your OS or do you have to get a new phone?
    -Given how much battery life iOS 4 stole from me I really wish there were quick toggles
    -I don't live in any social network. I rarely even launch the facebook app.
    -Something akin to home screen widgets would be very nice
    -Every iPhone and iPod touch has the same sounds, it's terrible in an office with lots of them.
    -Agreed on the mass marking as read
    -Access to the file system is another thing Apple is philosophically opposed to. The iPhone is supposed to be an appliance not a computer.
    -Early iPods had disk mode which was very useful. I wish Apple wouldn't be so inflexible.
    -You want tactile feedback and all day battery life? Maybe next decade.
    -File transfers assumes you have access to the file system and aren't trying to transfer DRM'd files. Not going to happen.
    -I don't know about you, but I've never needed to mass delete contacts from any phone or computer. Do you suffer from multiple personality disorder?
    -Better notifications of all types would be welcome.
    -Smart dialling would be a good feature addition
    -An app whose sole purpose is to play "illegally" downloaded files. Yeah, Steve's going to approve that one 'real soon now'.
    -The dependency on iTunes is a philosophical one. Steve believes your computer is your digital hub, that it contains the master copy of all your stuff. By definition your phone, with its limited storage capacity, contains a subset of that data. I think that makes sense for the vast majority of the public. You're a niche Apple doesn't want to deal with.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Must be nonsenseday today.

    And before you say it, yes I got a 3G and I will replace it with a i4 when they're available around here instead of an android phone as I originally planned, but for other reasons than the fictional ones you just stated.
    Reply
  • Bateluer - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Agreed, there are several Android phones that are out now that offer parity with the iPhone 4, and several within 2 months of release that will handily surpass it.

    As usual, Anand's reviews were very well written and detailed, but I'll still pit my year old Moto Droid against any iPhone product. :p
    Reply
  • JAS - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    As Anand pointed out in his review, the Google/Android operating system feels more like using a computer; and the iPhone (iOS 4) operating system feels more like an appliance. The Android OS is apt to appeal more to the geek than to the "normal mainstream consumer," just as Microsoft Windows is a favorite of people who like to tinker with their computers.

    For better or worse -- each person has to make their own judgment -- Apple's products are defined as much by features that are purposefully withheld as by the cool innovations that are added.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Actually, Anand likes the performance of the iPhone and i don't blame him. It is smooth, well implemented and thus makes using it more enjoyable, quantifiable or not. Features be damn, what counts is how a user perceives the device he/she is using. And once attached or rather use to them it's hard to like something that isn't the same or better.

    For the most part, android OS and WebOS are fine for the vast majority of users. The slight sluggish performance is really not hindering anyone from doing anything practical. It is really just a matter of perception.

    As for features and design, I can honestly say unless you been in the design phase yourself many decisions are made prior to production. Missing features such as Flash memory support is a choice left out purposely. Don't kid yourself they are doing it because they either can't or because of lack of money/resources.
    Reply

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