FaceTime for Mac Stays Resident

Forget all the iLife ’11, OSX 10.7 Lion and MacBook Air at the Apple Event today, the really fun announcement was FaceTime for Mac.

I’ve been playing with it all afternoon, and there are a couple interesting things about it that aren’t immediately obvious.

For starters, video quality is good (with a caveat), both from Mac to Mac and from Mac to iPhone. Initially, video quality was poorer on one end of the conversation, but through testing, we determined that the MacBook’s built-in iSight camera (now FaceTime camera) did considerably worse under low-light conditions; however, this was not a FaceTime issue, as we got the same result from iChat also.

The FaceTime program itself is basic, and does nothing more than make or receive calls from your address book (with a caveat). When you first install the program, you register with your Apple ID, identify the email address you want associated with your Mac and you’re done. It’s that simple.

So here are the interesting things I’ve learned.

  • You can place FaceTime calls directly from Safari, using the URL format of “facetime://email@address.com” or “facetime://phonenumber”
    • This works on both Safari on the Mac and Safari on the iPhone 4.
    • Using this technique, you can bypass the need for someone to be in your address book.
  • FaceTime, once installed, “stays resident” on your Mac. It appears to load a hook at boot time and your Mac and it will respond to incoming calls even when FaceTime isn’t open
    • I wonder, though, how it will respond when I take my Mac to another wifi network? Is it beaconing my address on a regular basis? What information is it sending?

While there are some issues concerning how FaceTime is being maintained constantly diligent, I think this will make a big difference in people making video calls. One of my main complaints about FaceTime is that you don’t know, when you call someone, if they’re not answering, of it they’re not on a WiFi network. Similarly, if the Mac required that you have FaceTime open, callers would likely have to call first to see if you were ready to take a FaceTime call, which really defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

I do think this explains why FaceTime wasn’t built into iChat.