New FaceTime Features: Links, Grids, and a Web App

Originally published at: New FaceTime Features: Links, Grids, and a Web App - TidBITS

New FaceTime features like links, grid view, and a Web client make FaceTime in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey more competitive with video conferencing apps like Zoom.

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As far as I can tell none of this applies to Big Sur. Just another way in which those of us with iMacs not compatible with Monterey are being encouraged to buy new. I know it’s inevitable but my 2014 27" Retina is only 6+ years old, going strong, and I’d be happier if I didn’t have to shell out the money to replace it.

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Note that many of the control features are not even available on recent model Intel Macs–they require Apple Silicon. When the basic chip architecture used changes, it’s to be expected that legacy machines to appear to age even faster as retrofitting new features requires building them for 2 different architectures.

My understanding of the situation is that the commitment to running on Intel machines is that existing features won’t disappear and that new features that are easy to implement across architectures will show up. However, features that are heavily dependent on new chip architectures will not be retrofitted to older architectures.

Yes, that’s exactly what happened with PowerPC machines during the Intel transition. They very quickly became dated.

I don’t think it will be quite so severe this time since there are a lot of Intel Macs out there and most are still quite useful, but within a few years they’re going to seem ancient (especially if Apple Silicon keeps improving at the rates it has been).

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Yep, I don’t have an M1 Mac, so I had to get Adam’s help to document some of these features. What’s funny is I saw ARM Macs coming but didn’t anticipate them being so superior to Intel Macs (in most ways) and Apple so quickly excluding new features from Intel Macs.

I was not a happy camper back in the 1990s when just a few weeks after I bought my first generation cheese grater Mac, Steve Jobs announced OS X would not run on RISC Macs. The horror….the horror!

Alright, folks, let’s keep this focused on FaceTime. Yes, there are features that rely on the M1 chip’s custom capabilities—that’s going to be happening more and more over time for obvious reasons.

It seems FaceTime is trying to catch up Zoom. So why not use Zoom instead because it doesn’t depend on platform or have the technical and browser limitations that some of the “new” FaceTime features have? Sadly, it seems Apple is no longer aiming to produce the computer “for the rest of us”.

For privacy/ad tracking reasons perhaps?

I use Zoom when I have to, or I’m invited to such a meeting (not that often), but FaceTime is easy and fine when I know the people I want to speak with are comfortable with it, prefer it, etc. (Though I haven’t used the “new” group FaceTime yet.)

Also, does Apple really need to try to win every single category, or is it ok to make some apps and services that work well enough for the people who want to use them occasionally?

I don’t think privacy and ad tracking are problems if one uses the Zoom.app rather than use a browser but I’m not sure about that.

If Zoom can produce an app that is cross-platform and tolerant of system version why doesn’t Apple do the same? I suspect that by limiting the latest features to the latest systems that run on the latest Mac computers Apple is trying to coerce users to upgrade not only their system but also buy the latest computer. That smacks of Microsoft tactics much criticized by Mac users in the past.

People will tell you it’s not that and how much it would cost Apple if it had to back-port something like this to Big Sur or gasp Catalina and and then also support it on those legacy systems. They will remind you that macOS updates are free and how fortunate we are to have such generous benevolents like Saint Tim around us in this cold and heartless world. And of course that’s true. It would cost them lots of money. Many millions probably. Keep in mind, with just $2B+ in cash reserves you really need to keep a close eye on such expenses or else before you know it you’re collecting welfare. You don’t get to be a global corporate mega-behemoth by just handing it out left and right, you know. It takes lost of nose-to-the-grinder scrooging to achieve invincible status. I feel for Tim’s plight here. Must be tough getting stuck between that rock and that hard place. :wink:

The big win of FaceTime is it’s built in, so it’s easy to have a video call with another Apple user without having them install something else. That’s very handy for talking to family members who aren’t tech-savvy and may not even have an App Store account.

There are several possible answers.

  • Apple is using an OS feature that doesn’t exist on older versions of macOS. Apple is known for doing this in order to showcase their tech. Do you need hardware-accelerated neural network processing for a video chat? No. But you can use it to add some really nifty features that wouldn’t work well on computers without the hardware.

    Third-party developers, on the other hand, have a vested interest in not doing things like this (or at disable the hardware-specific features when the hardware isn’t available), in order to maximize their potential customer base.

  • Support costs are a real thing. Every platform you support is one that your tech support staff needs to be trained on. It also means you need to fix bugs that only occur on the older platforms. You might need to provide your own code to replicate APIs that were introduced in recent versions of the OS.

    Nothing impossible to do, but there’s a cost. Very few developers today are willing to (for example) support the PowerPC platform. Not because it’s impossible, but because the cost is too great compared to the benefits (of supporting those users with PPC Macs). But there are exceptions.

    Every developer needs to decide where to draw the line, weighing the cost of support against the number of likely customers using the platform.

  • Apple certainly does use their software to encourage customers to buy the latest hardware. Is this a sinister motivation? I’m sure some think so, but I don’t think it should be surprising for a company like Apple to design the hardware and software to showcase each other

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Zoom is banned from the New York City public school system for these reasons.

I haven’t heard of any privacy or security issues of this magnitude about any Apple stuff. So I’ve been sticking with FaceTime.

And very recently:

Because they don’t want to, probably because privacy oriented, no cost FaceTime is a selling point for Apple devices. Apple developed a cross platform versions of Music because it is very profitable for the company, and Music is privacy focused. It doesn’t make sense for Apple to give away a free service to owners of Android or Windows stuff.

Apple community and social apps (FaceTime, iMessage) are great to use if you are communicating with an all-Apple Community. Unfortunately, although I am deep in the Apple universe, I can’t depend on folks that I communicate regularly being so inclined. So, for communication, I must depend on company-hardware-agnostic tools. I think that a large number of Apple enthusiasts may be in the same boat, and probably regard the Apple community aspects of Apple tools the of little importance to us. They are important only if those features also migrate into hardware-agnostic apps.