"FaceTime" has become a Kleenex-level generic word to describe making a video call on your phone, no matter the platform or what app people are actually using. Yet even in one of Apple's densest markets, the U.S., a full 50% of people can't use FaceTime at all — because they have an Android phone. There are great video calling apps that cross operating system boundaries — we just need to get people to use them, and stop perpetuating the idea that the inherently-restricted FaceTime is the default choice.
I know people reading Android Central will probably be using an Android phone and don't have any chance of using FaceTime in the first place. But this is more about spreading the word to others out there, who we're all trying to communicate with right now more than ever, who have iPhones, iPads and Macs.
Perhaps this current situation with coronavirus, keeping so many of us at home far more than we would be otherwise, is a perfect reason for getting friends and family to download a different app and stop turning to FaceTime for all of their video calling. Because right now, there's no reason to make excuses for not trying another app — we should all be using video calls to help make up for a loss of in-person interaction. FaceTime works well, but the most important feature of any video calling app is being able to talk to everyone you need to — that means using something open to everyone.
Google Duo is my personal choice because it's a dead-simple app that only does one thing: video calls. It works on Android, iOS and the web, with great video and audio quality that does a particularly good job of scaling to meet your bandwidth, and group calls up to 12 people (lower than FaceTime's 32, unfortunately). Because of its simplicity, it's an easy sell to anyone who currently enjoys FaceTime. You don't have to sign up for an account or have some confusing full-blown messaging app; Duo just becomes "the app you use to video call," and that's a good thing.
Of course there are other options that do have more features, like Houseparty. Plus full-fledged messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. And of course more traditional group call apps like Zoom, Hangouts and Skype. None of them are as simple and quick to pick up as Duo, but anything cross-platform that brings more people together is an improvement.
Now you can't blame Apple too much for keeping FaceTime locked to its own platforms. Bringing FaceTime to Android and Windows would be a massive undertaking, for technical and legal reasons reasons at a minimum, and at this point nobody should be holding their breath for it to happen.
The experience FaceTime offers is pretty damn good, and the way it integrates straight into the iPhone's phone dialer, iMessage and macOS makes the video calling experience seamless. That streamlined experience would be diminished on other platforms. And let's be honest, Apple doesn't have any motivation for making it easy to stop using an Apple phone, tablet or computer while continuing to use its services — even if, in this case, it would improve communication options for people who have few good choices.
But we don't have to wait for Apple to change its tune and open FaceTime to other operating systems. We can take control of the situation by getting the people we talk to to use a different app. And right now, the most important thing is being able to talk to, and see, people while we stay at home. We should use any app or service that facilitates that.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.