18 March 2020 12:40
As we all look for ways to make the best of self-quarantine and social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are turning to video calls to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Making a FaceTime call on your iPhone, iPad or Mac to say hi to family and friends is a quick and easy way to provide some connection right now. FaceTime supports group video chat with up to 32 people. Group FaceTime works on any Apple device that's running iOS/iPadOS 12.1.4 or newer, and MacOS 10.14.3 or newer. Some older model iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches () that aren't compatible with iOS 13 can still be part of Group FaceTime calls, but their participation will be limited to audio only.
Here's how to use Group FaceTime on your iPhone, iPad or Mac. While in a call, tap on the Effects button (it has a star icon) and you'll be able to add stickers, use your personalized Memoji, or make yourself look like an animated shark to keep others entertained. Scaling a platform like this so quickly isn't just a matter of optimizing software and network resources, it means adding actual, physical hardware capacity (whether for Zoom or through its web services provider) that can be difficult to do in a pinch. Zoom may have been better off rate-limiting new signups to the service during this time, but it was probably too afraid it would lose out to rival platforms like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Duo, Cisco Webex, and Hangouts Meet in doing so. Rivals like Microsoft Teams (4.5 stars) and Cisco Webex (4.5 stars) aren't nearly as badly impacted, but I would argue that's because they just aren't marketed very much to consumers, educators, and small businesses, they're far more corporate apps. That could mean the downvotes on Android are due to issues arising with the service that aren't affecting iOS, or that Apple could have frozen Zoom's rating after it saw a similar influx of negative reviews.
So Android users can get a FaceTime-like experience, and everyone can communicate with everyone else. While these alternatives don't totally recreate the FaceTime experience, they are great video calling apps in their own right. WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps around, and while it's mostly known for text, it also supports voice and video calls. One of the best things about FaceTime is that it comes pre-installed on iOS devices, so everyone in that ecosystem will be able to communicate, whereas for other apps you need everyone you want to call to install it. So, chances are most of those people already have WhatsApp. Beyond that, it's also useful since calls are encrypted and they're easy to start – just tap the video camera icon in any chat.
And as WhatsApp is also a full-featured app for voice and text chats, complete with groups, cloud backups, GIFs and more, it's potentially the only communication app you'll ever need. Skype predates FaceTime and pretty much every other video calling platform, so it's had a lot of time to get things right, and having been around that long it's another service that a lot of people probably already have. The need to log in, rather than just tying it to your phone number, makes it arguably a bit less slick to use on a phone than WhatsApp, but for that same reason Skype is a better option on computers and tablets. Once you've got an account and added some friends, you can video call them at the press of a button, and Skype supports up to 24 participants in a single call. And like WhatsApp, Skype also support voice calls and text chats with all the core features you'd expect those services to include. There are also handy features like 'Knock Knock', which lets you see live video of the person calling before you answer. It's not a one-stop chat option like the apps above – this really is focused on the video side of things, but for that it's a top choice. While WhatsApp, Skype and Google Duo are our three top picks as FaceTime alternatives, there are loads of other apps that you might also want to consider. It features a clean, easy-to-use interface that can handle up to 250 users and allows people to drop in and out of meetings quickly, which could be important as working schedules are disrupted. Probably the best known video calling tool, Skype is marketed more as a social platform but it does support calls for up to 50 people, making it perfectly viable for business too. Like Google, Skype offers a web app which means each user won't have to download new software to use it – ideal if employees are using their personal computers or working with older, slower hardware. It can also be upgraded to Skype for Business for a monthly fee, allowing up to 250 people to join the same call and offering stronger security options for those whose work involves handling sensitive data. While Zoom also has paid-for tiers that allow for bigger calls, the free version enables 100 people to video-conference together, although it does put a 40-minute time limit on meetings of three or more people. Cisco's video-conferencing app offers one of the most impressive free-to-use services you're likely to find. It allows for HD video meetings of up to 100 people, while also providing 1GB of cloud storage to make juggling files all the easier. There are paid-for versions of Webex which users can upgrade to but it's likely that the free version will fulfil many people's remote working needs. Like many of the other options, FreeConference offers both free-to-use and premium options, with the free service providing an ideal quick and easy way for small teams to stay connected. However, the free version will only allow users to host meetings of up to five people so it really is only for small teams.