One of the most understated features of iOS 7 that almost no-one is talking about is FaceTime audio. FaceTime calls can still be made as normal with the camera, or, new to iOS 7, as an audio-only call. That’s right, no more trying to look your best or wasting time putting on clothes.
The FaceTime icon has been split, replaced by new video and audio symbols within iOS’ contacts list.
Although it’s basically FaceTime with reduced functionality, the ramifications of this new feature are enormous. iMessage pretty much destroyed the requirements for text messaging between iOS users by providing a data connection-driven way of sending messages1. No longer did you need to know how many texts your phone contract gave you or how much extra you’d have to pay to send a picture message or a message to someone in another country, iMessage made all of these factors redundant by allowing your messages to be sent using the iPhone or iPad’s data connection.
FaceTime audio will potentially have the same effect for voice calls, at least between iOS users. It brings all of the benefits of services such as Skype, providing free peer-to-peer VoIP calls, at no cost other than any cellular data you may use2. For people often in places where there’s Wi-Fi, this means voice calls without any cost whatsoever and, for international calls to other iOS users across the globe, this eliminates any long distance charges completely.
Apple certainly wasn’t the first to provide an easy to use voice communication tool that works over the internet. Skype, a company that recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, is far more wider-reaching than FaceTime audio due to its cross-platform nature, but it’s a longer process to initially set up when compared to FaceTime. You have to download the Skype app, set up or sign in with a Skype account before finally spending time finding and importing your contacts who also use Skype. I’d wager that the vast majority of iOS users who often conduct video calls to other iOS users use FaceTime rather than Skype, simply because it’s easier.
iOS prompts you to either sign in with an Apple ID / iCloud account or create a new one if you don’t already have one, making FaceTime available right from the start. There’s no importing of contacts as iOS automatically identifies other iMessage and FaceTime users that you have in your contacts list, it just works.
Make no mistake, FaceTime audio is a completely understated feature that has the potential to be as much a game changer to the way iOS users make calls as iMessage did to text messaging, and Apple has been seeing upwards of 2 billion messages sent every day.
To paraphrase Obi-Wan: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if CEOs of phone carriers suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”