FaceTime is Apple’s video calling system, and when it was introduced Apple promised to make it open source. We’re still waiting. One day, we hope, we’ll be able to tell you how to get Apple FaceTime for Android. But until that day comes, we'll keep you posted with all the alternatives on offer.
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There’s a famous technology problem described as “the only fax machine in the world”: if you’re the only person who owns a fax machine, there’s nobody for you to send faxes to or receive them from (if you don’t know what a fax machine is, it’s a nearly obsolete technology that scans letters, sends them over the phone and then prints them out slowly and badly at the other end. People thought faxes were pretty damn futuristic in the 1980s).
You get the point: whether it’s a social network or a chat app, the more people that use it, the more useful it becomes and the more people want to use it. We’ve seen it with Gmail, with Facebook, with WhatsApp and with Instagram. And in 2010 we thought we’d see it with FaceTime too.
FaceTime: what is it, and what does it want?
FaceTime was unveiled by Apple in 2010 with the iPhone 4, and it promised high quality video calling (and more recently, voice over IP calling too) between iPhone users. So far so ''meh'' as far as Android users are concerned, but Steve Jobs said that Apple would immediately start working with various standards bodies to make FaceTime an “open industry standard” that could be used by other firms to bring FaceTime to other platforms, such as Android. The process should have been simple, because FaceTime was built on standards: H.264 for video, AAC for audio and so on.
Five years on, and FaceTime is still Apple-only.
Why isn’t FaceTime on Android yet?
As far as the technology is concerned, there are two key reasons why FaceTime never made it to other platforms. The first is that FaceTime uses digital certificates to prevent automated spam calls and telemarketing, and those certificates appear to be Apple-specific. The second reason is that Apple uses a range of additional techniques to improve performance, but those techniques have a knock-on effect on FaceTime’s compatibility with other systems that are based on the same standards.
Of course, there’s another possible explanation, which is that Apple no longer gives a stuff about bringing FaceTime to anybody else: it’s got so many people using FaceTime on iOS and OS X devices that it doesn’t need to reach non-iOS users any more.
It’s possible that FaceTime will come to Android one day, but then it’s possible that your uncle Frank is a space alien from the planet Zog. It’s possible, but it really isn’t very likely.
Then again, who cares? There are plenty of Android FaceTime alternatives, and some of them are brilliant.
Which Android apps do FaceTime better than FaceTime?
We’re glad you asked. There's Google Hangouts, of course, but there are lots of other apps to choose from.
The big one is Skype, which we use here at AndroidPIT for our own internal communications. It’s been around since the internet was powered by mice on treadmills, and it’s free to use unless you want to call telephones like people used to do. You do need a Skype ID to use it, but most people you know probably have one already. If they adon’t, getting one’s just a matter of getting the app and entering a few details.
There’s also Facebook’s all-conquering Messenger, which has just got video calls: with more than 1 million Messenger video calls made in the first two days, it looks like it’s going to be a hit. As you’d expect you need your friends, family or colleagues to be on Facebook in order to use it, but let’s face it: everybody’s on Facebook, whether they want to be or not.
It isn’t here yet, but WhatsApp video calls are coming. Facebook may have bought it and used it to power its Messenger app, but it’s not going to shut down such a popular service or let it decline. We know video’s coming. We just don’t know when it’ll arrive.
Last but not least, there’s Viber. In the case of Viber, making a video call means making a voice call first. Select your contact, tap the Free Call button, and wait for the call to connect. Once it connects, you’ll need to tap the Video Call button to move into video calling mode, and the person you’re calling needs to activate it too or you won’t be able to see him, her or them.
Do you think Apple should bring FaceTime to Android, or has that boat already sailed? Let us know in the comments.