First Blush Review: FaceTime for Mac

Apple customers have been loving FaceTime on their iPhones and iPod touches, but have clamored for the same FaceTime capability on their Macs. On Wednesday, Steve Jobs gave the Mac community just that in the form of a very impressive public beta. Here’s a first blush, quick look.

FaceTIme for Mac

FaceTime for Mac (Apple)

The FaceTime public beta is available now from Apple. It’s a .dmg file that contains a .mpkg installer. When I see that, I get curious about the contents of the package, but if you take a look at the files (File -> Show Files) you’ll be blocked from seeing them. What is Apple hiding?

FaceTime Files

FaceTime.mpkg Mystery

As usual, after the install, the FaceTime app will be in your /Applications directory, ready to be launched.

The first thing you’ll do is select an e-mail address (or phone number) that you want to designate as your FaceTime handle. After you specify one, you can add more. Apple keeps a database that links your Mac to this handle so that FaceTime callers know how to find your Mac.

After you log on to FaceTime, you’ll see a list of contacts, pulled from your Mac OS X Address Book. After you select one of them, you’ll see all their phone numbers and e-mails. Unfortunately, the one they’ve designated to be the FaceTime contact isn’t marked in any way, probably because there’s not yet a facility in the Address Book to mark it. A quick e-mail or phone call will confirm that with your friend, but you’ll have to remember their designated preference, Better yet, mark them as a favorite.

The first thing I was curious about is how well FaceTime deals with my network security. I have a hardware firewall/router with no ports open, so FaceTime has to jump through some geeky hoops to establish the two way connection. My finger got tired approving the connection requests on various ports via Little Snitch. Without going into further details, FaceTime did a great job dealing with the normal firewall protocols.

faceTime & Little Snitch

Little Snitch Goes Bananas, but FaceTime works

The next thing to note is that FaceTime is designed to stay running in the background. Even if you quit the app, there is a background process that can respond to incoming calls. You’ll have to accept the connection before anyone can see you.

If you want to turn the camera off and be unavailable for calls, go to the main FaceTime menu and select “Sign Out.” If you want to turn the camera off and remain available for calls, quit the app. If you want to leave the app running, but be marked as unavailable, go to Preferences. FaceTime’s rightmost column will show an On/Off button. Click that. The camera won’t turn off, but no one can call you. Maybe this should be marked as “I’m busy = Yes/No.”

It might be better to have a (toggle) button right on the main GUI that turns off the camera and marks you as busy without quitting the app, but these UI details remain to be worked out.

In this version of FaceTime, the entire Address Book is Loaded. Perhaps it would be nice to have a designated group in the Address Book load instead. (I say that because my Address Book has 800+ names.) However, to make things easier, there are “Recents” and “Favorites” buttons at the bottom to help winnow down the list to just the people you want to call.

Once loaded, the Contact list scrolls nicely with a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad to get to the person you want to call. But on the keyboard, there’s no way to winnow select. Like the Finder, pressing only the first key works. I’m betting that will be fixed in the release with a search field like the Address Book’s.

Click on the “expansion” button on the bottom right to go full screen. I had a session with a fellow who’s limited to 1.5 Mbps DSL, and he looked great, full-screen, with no noticeable break up or pixelation. The sound was very good, but not as good as, I think, Skype.

If you remain logged in, but were away from the Mac, and someone called you, you can see that list in the “Missed” button at the top.

I FaceTimed with two different friends for over thirty minutes each. We experimented with the landscape and portrait modes (Video -> Use Landscape/Portrait) or the small rotation icon in the the PIP Camera Monitor. We liked Landscape. There’s still no way to change the background, as in iChatAV, and that may come later. Apple likes to keep things simple for starters. I noted that there’s just enough software lag that you can see yourself blink. FWIW.

I noted that if you leave your Mac unattended, someone can: 1) Open the FaceTime App 2) Go to Preferences  3) Click on the Account  4) Click ‘View Account’ and see all your critical Apple ID info: password, secret question/answer and date of birth. So it’s probably wise to set a screen saver password in an insecure setting like the work place.


For a public beta, this version (0.9, 92) is very smooth and capable. It did crash on me a few times, and I noted that there was no traditional Crash Reporter. but I’m beting Apple is logging that info anyway. Recovery was painless with just a relaunch.

This is a great first release of an already insanely popular product. It’s very usable right now, and I think the public beta is really to work out some UI kinks, collect crash info, and see how the app handles various firewall technologies. So far, it’s been a seamless experience on my MacBook Pro, and I don’t see a reason to wait for the 1.0 release to try it out.

The FaceTime 0.9 beta requires Mac OS X 10.6.4 or later and an iSight camera.