FaceTime Audio - One of the Best iOS 7 Features Apple is Barely Talking About

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Apple released iOS 7 yesterday with a lot of press.  Who would have thought a software download have become  an event that people all over the world celebrate?   Every year it never fails.  At 1pm the productivity in my office fell through the floor as people scrambled to download the updates onto their phones or Macs to load onto their phones later; everyone super excited to see the new look and try out all the new features.  

While Apple has announced and talked about most of the new features for a few months now, one new feature I think is super awesome is barely being talked about, and there is a reason for that.  

FaceTime, Apple's version of Skype which lets you video chat with another person with an Apple device was launched several years ago.  I use it when I can but I don't see a ton of usage when I'm out and about; at least not like when I visited Europe where I saw tons of people using it.  Who knows why.  I do video conferencing for work and having a video call is still odd and almost uncomfortable for most people.  I think it will get more popular over time and we'll see a lot more video calling in the next few years.  But with iOS 7 Apple adds the ability to have a FaceTime audio call.  And just like FaceTime video, its really easy to use.  

There's a dedicated FaceTime app but I usually just start in the phone app since it's on my home screen and has all my contacts.  Either way, start by finding a contact you want to call (make sure it's a person with an Apple device or the call will fail) and tap on the name.

Below the persons number(s) you'll see FaceTime as an option.  The one that is new is the one that looks like the phone.  Tap it and it will ring them just like a phone call.  Here it is: 

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If the other person has an Apple device with FaceTime enabled, their device will ring.  Here's what it looks like on my iPad.  Just like a phone call just slide to answer and you can start talking.

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You can easily change it to a video call by tapping the FaceTime button.   

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There you go, it's at as simple as that to start a FaceTime audio call!  Ok so why would you do this over a regular phone call you ask?  

  • Well the biggest thing is that when you do a FaceTime audio call you are not using your phone plan minutes.     Read it again if you want but it's true.  FaceTime audio uses wifi or your phones cell phone data connection to make a voice call.  

  • You can call people on their iPads, Macs, and iPod Touch.

  • Due to bullet number one above, you can call people internationally for super cheap because you are only paying for the data you use.  And data usage on an audio call is low.  Also add the fact that you can do this from any wifi hotspot and then it really is free!

This is all very similar to iMessage which basically does the same thing with texts.  It sends the messages using data and goes around the cell providers who would normally charge a lot more for you to send a text.   

You can see why Apple hasn't hyped FaceTime audio up too much.  Because they need companies like Verizon, AT&T, and others all over the world to support and sell the iPhone and this feature eats into those companies' profits.  Apple has to play nice with the carriers and I am guessing they were outraged when this was first announced. Therefore I would bet that there is some deal in place where Apple has agreed not to promote it very much.  

But I don't care about all that.  All I care about is that Apple has given us a way to save money and call people all over the world more easily than ever before.  There are apps that do this but when the feature is built right into your contacts and is so easy how can you go wrong?   

Apple might not be talking about it but its there,  it works well (in my testing), and it can save you money.  The next time you call someone with an Apple device, why not make it FaceTime audio?  

 

A Few Things About iOS 7

Today is the day that Apple releases iOS 7, the software that runs it's iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.  Its a day where you can make your Apple device look and feel brand new due to a a revamped design and tons of new features.  I've been running it for a while so I have a great feel for everything and I think it is a great upgrade.  Here are a few of my favorite features and suggestions on a few things.

1. Completely New Look

I really hated it at first but it grew on me.  I won't talk much about this because there is a lot more already out there on the net that you can find on your own.   It takes some getting used to but it's cleaner and more modern.  I think it is a big improvement.  Here's a shot of how the Email and Music apps look:

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2.  Control Center

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At first I didn't really like Apple's new control menu that can be accessed from swiping up from the bottom of the device.  But the more I used it the more I got the hang of things and it works well.  Just swipe up and you have access to commonly used functions like turning bluetooth or wifi on and off.  I play a lot of music so having the controls for that brought up with a small swipe rather than a double tap and a few swipes like it was in the past, is just awesome.  

3.  AirDrop

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Here Apple has taken a feature that has existed on the Mac for a while and added it to iOS devices.  What AirDrop does is allow me to easily transfer files between my devices and my friends'.  Remember those commercials for Android phones where people tap their phone together to share something?  Have you ever seen anyone in real life do that?  I haven't.  AirDrop makes this possible for Apple users and it is more secure and has a longer range.  Also as with most things Apple it is super simple.  Just select the files you want to share and AirDrop will tell you who is around to accept it and then you can send along.  This will be an awesome feature that will only get better over time.  

Theres lots more I could go over but I could write all day.  I'll post a few of my other favorite things in more detail later this week.  For now here are a couple tips when it comes to upgrading.

  • Always backup your device before hand.  I recommend backing up to iCloud AND iTunes if you can.  Things can go wrong and it is always good to have something to go back to.  

  • If you have an iPad I might wait a little while before upgrading.  The iPhone version is solid but on iPad there are still a good amount of bugs.  

At the time of writing this iOS 7 is now available.  Go ahead and download if you want!  I hope you backed everything up.  Go to Settings -> General -> Software Update. 

Enjoy!

 

iOS 7 Thoughts and Predictions

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It is that time of year again.  Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, aka WWDC is  Monday.  This is when we'll hear about the next evolution of software that will power our iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch's, and Apple computers.  While most people won't get to use the software until fall, it is always an interesting event. Mobile is the future of computing and watching the likes of Google and Apple battle it out to have the best features on their devices in hopes to win customers is just awesome.  iOS, the software that runs on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch is what is most interesting to me and here's what I hope and expect to see announced next week when we first hear about iOS 7.  

Device file sharing/transfer improvements: 

You'e seen it on all the commercials for Android phones; they have a feature called NFC (near field communication), which allows you to transfer files between devices just by getting them closer to each other.  This has been something rumored to come to Apple devices for a long time but it has never happened.  I'm not so sure the style of file transfer we see on Android is something we need .  All I know is that I am constantly wanting to transfer files between my iPhone, iPad and Mac wirelessly and it is never an easy process.  Recent rumors have suggested we might see this feature coming in iOS 7.  

Voice integration in Messages:

As smartphones and texting become more popular, it seems that people use these devices less and less as a phone and more to send messages like texts and pictures.  Recently I wrote about apps like Voxer which allows you to send short audio messages which I enjoy more than sending texts.  I think it is only logical that Apple builds this ability into it's messaging app.  Will we see it in iOS 7? I am guessing no but I am crossing my fingers.  I would much rather send a quick audio message than a text.  

More control over the camera:

Exposure and focus control in Camera+

Exposure and focus control in Camera+

One of the main reasons I try to buy a new iPhone each year one comes out (if I can afford it at the time), is because I am a picture taking fiend. The camera technology on these devices gets so much better with each iteration that we are seeing the lines between actual photography with a nice DSLR camera and mobile device cameras start to blend.  This is why I want Apple to give us more control over the camera.  Android does this and has for a long time.  The reason Apple has not is because they treasure simplicity but I don't think it would be that hard to have an "advanced mode" that you could turn on with a button that would allow us more control over things like exposure, focus, and shutter.  Either that or allow me to make an app like Camera+, which already has these features, the default camera app.  

Fantastical for iPhone

Fantastical for iPhone

Better calendar management - These days our lives are filled with events and it feels like more things need to go on our calendar all the time.  Combine my personal life and work and I get a calendar that looks like this.  Yikes!  While Apple's calendar app is good, it needs to be better.  It needs to be much easier to enter events as well as manage them.  An app that does this very well is Fantastical and I hope we see some changes to the iOS calendar that take some cues from this app.  

Easy access to settings:

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Quick settings mockup

People have been asking for this forever.  Apple made it a little easier to access the bluetooth options in the last update of iOS but it should be even easier to access bluetooth and many other settings.  People are using wifi and bluetooth more and more every day and it is freaking 2013.  We shouldn't have to dig deep into menus to turn simple features on and off anymore.   

Make Siri work better:

I'm not sure this will ever be possible.  The main problem with Siri is that it needs a connection to do anything at all.  When you're on good strong working wifi Siri can actually do some things.  When you are on cellular you are screwed, even if you are on a fast LTE connection.  I've wasted more time using Siri than I should and plenty of others have too.  I am not sure if they will ever get it to work extremely well.  Google Now for Android destroys Siri.  

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Better Reminders:

I don't see a ton of people using Apple's built in "Reminders" app but I use it daily for managing things to do and lists and it is one of the few things I use Siri for.  I'd really like to see Apple make this app look a little better and it could certainly be a little easier for me to make entries to my lists.  

I could go on and on about other things I'd like to see but to me right now these are the most important.  I'm pretty confident we'll see a good amount of these items in iOS 7 and I'm sure there will be a few new things that no one saw coming.  Apple has to push the limits to keep pace with Android which has really been improving things by leaps and bounds lately.

We'll know more Monday at 1pm EDT.  Exciting stuff!