The Great Sadness of Apple Facetime

by Colin Berkshire

When Steve Jobs announced FaceTime, Apple’s picture phone service, he also stated that it would be an open standard. (prior post)

Here we are a decade later and under Tim Cook Apple’s FaceTime has remained a proprietary, locked in, closed system. Dang him.

If Apple’s FaceTime were an open standard it would be a much more important part of our lives. We probably could call a company and speak with and see the agent we are talking to. I think this is important because people say things on the phone that they would never say in person. Being able to see an airline reservation agent I think would result in better bonds between the airline and its customers. Being able to see a government agent working would remind everybody that they are trying to do their job and that I am a person. I could really make doctor visits over the phone in most cases.

But Apple, the smartphone leader, has chosen to make FaceTime proprietary for reasons that are certainly not to the benefit of their customers.

While Apple is opening up texting enhancements through Apple Business Chat (See: this doesn’t incorporate real-time communications such as voice or video.

Imagine for a moment an open-standard FaceTime…

I call Acme Corporation and speak with their receptionist. He or she sees me as a human being and can tailor the conversation. Little things like when I write a note she could see it and pause before continuing. I could be transferred to another person on the same call (switchboard feature.) While in queue I could be shown my queue position, or I could perhaps answer some questions. Video could supplement the call. An agent could switch the camera and show me their screen, and could let me confirm an order.

If FaceTime were an open standard all of telecommunications would be a better place. The world would be a better place. The telecommunications industry would be healthier. And, the use of FaceTime would be more prevalent in the business world.

But golly dang, Apple who is the smartphone leader has for no customer-friendly reason chosen to keep FaceTime from being the next generation of telecommunications.

Yes, I know that other services like Skype or WeChat exist. But they, too, are largely proprietary.

What we need is an open standard video telecommunications protocol that allows the video feed to be managed, and for calls to be switched. It could (almost) be done with SIP.

But really it is more than the somewhat broken SIP protocol. It needs to be widely supported by industry. Perhaps legislation even needs to mandate that at a minimum this protocol be supported. (I believe that good legislation levels playing fields.)

Imagine a world where there were 100 incompatible ethernet protocols, (with Token Ring being one of them.) Imagine a world where there was the Facebook internet, which was separate from the Apple internet which was separate from the Android internet. It would be a horrible thing that would actually hurt every company and person.

So the same is true with video calling. Everybody—including Apple—would be better off with at least one common, shared, compatible video-call protocol. Every company—YOUR COMPANY—would benefit from having every smartphone be able to hold a video call and for the standard to be open enough that every company could also support video.

Why is our system so broken? How can we fix it?