The iPhone 4, as you’re probably aware, has two cameras—one on the back and one on the front. And that can mean only one thing: video calling has arrived.
The iPhone is not the first phone that can make video calls. But it’s the first one that can make good video calls, reliably, with no sign up or setup, with a single tap. The picture and audio are generally rock-solid, with very little delay, and it works the first time and every time. Now Grandma can see the baby, or you can help someone shop from afar, or you can supervise brain surgery even from thousands of miles away. (If you’re a brain surgeon, of course.)
However, you can enjoy these “Jetsons” fantasies only if you and your calling partner both have iPhone 4s, and only when you’re both in strong WiFi hot spots. In time, other software companies may create FaceTime-compatible programs for other gadgets and computers. And Apple implies that in 2011, you’ll be able to make such calls over the cellular airwaves, not just over WiFi.
In any case, FaceTime could not be easier to fire up. You can try it in either of two situations:
- When you’re already on a phone call with someone. This is a good technique when you want to ask first if the other guy wants to do video, or when you’ve been chatting and suddenly there’s some reason to do video. In any case, there’s nothing to it: Just tap the FaceTime icon that’s right on the screen when you pull the phone away from your face.
- From scratch. You can also start up a videochat without placing a phone call first. Once you and your loved one (or your minion) have become accustomed to FaceTime, you may want to skip the initial phone-call part, especially since it costs you AT&T minutes. You can also use FaceTime even when you can’t get an AT&T signal.
Of course, if you’re not already on a call, the iPhone doesn’t yet know whom you want to call. So you have to tell it.
Open your Contacts app, tap the person’s name, and then tap the FaceTime button. Or, from within the Phone app, call up your Favorites or Recents list. Tap the blue button next to a name to open the Contacts card; tap FaceTime.
At this point, the other guy receives an audio and video message inviting him to a chat. If he taps Accept, then you’re on.
You’re on each other’s screens, seeing and hearing each other in real time. (You appear on your own screen, too, in a little inset window. Consider it spinach-in-your-teeth protection.)
Once the chat has begun, here’s some of the fun you can have:
- Rotate the screen. FaceTime works in either portrait (upright) or landscape (widescreen) view; just turn your phone 90 degrees. (Of course, if your calling partner doesn’t also turn her phone, she’ll see your picture all squished and tiny, with big black areas filling the rest of the screen.)
Tip: The Rotation Lock button works in FaceTime, too. That is, you can stop the picture from rotating when you turn the phone—as long as you’re happy with full-time upright (portrait) orientation.
- Show what’s in front of you. Sometimes, you are not the important thing; sometimes, you’ll want to show your friend what you’re looking at. That is, you’ll want to turn on the camera on the back of the iPhone, the one pointing away from you, to show off the baby, the artwork, or the broken engine part.
That’s easy enough; just tap the icon on your screen. The iPhone switches from the front camera to the back camera. Now you and your callee can both see what you’re seeing. (It’s a lot less awkward than using a laptop for this purpose, because the laptop’s camera always faces away from you—so you can’t see what you’re showing.)
Tap the icon again to return to the front camera.
- Snap a commemorative photo. You can immortalize a chat by using the screenshot keystroke (Sleep + Home). You’ll wind up with a still photo of your videochat in progress, safely nestled in your Photos app.
- Mute the audio. Tap the icon to silence the audio that you’re sending. Great when you need to yell at the kids.
- Mute the video. When you leave the FaceTime app for any reason (press the Home button and then open a different program, if you like), the other guy’s screen goes black. He can’t see what you’re doing when you leave the FaceTime screen. He can still hear you, though.
This feature was designed to let you check your calendar, look something up on the Web, or whatever, while you’re still videochatting. But it’s also a great trick when you need to adjust your clothing, pick your nose, or otherwise shield your activity from whomever’s on the other end.
In the meantime, the call is, technically, still in progress—and a green banner at the top of the Home screen reminds you of that. Tap there, on the green bar, to return to the video call.
When you and your buddy have had quite enough, tap the End button to terminate the call. (Although it’s easy to jump from phone call to videochat, there’s no way to go the other direction.)
And marvel that you were alive to see the day.
Learn more about this topic from iPhone: The Missing Manual, 4th Edition.
The new iPhone 4 and iPhone 4.0 software have arrived, and New York Times tech columnist David Pogue is on top of it with a thoroughly updated edition of iPhone: The Missing Manual. Each custom-designed page helps you use your iPhone for everything from web browsing to watching videos. The iPhone is packed with possibilities, and with this handy book, you can explore them all.