Set Up Apple's FaceTime and Make it Always Work

A FaceTime conversation with Apple devices is a terrific experience, once you get it set up. However, configuring properly across multiple devices, Macs, iPads and iPhones, with different addresses, can be tricky. Here are some of the basic FaceTime addressing dos and don'ts, plus what you need to know to set up the feature so that the desired device answers the call and you have a consistent, understandable experience.

1. Requirements. In order to make a FaceTime call with someone, you must do some configuration and both of you must have the right hardware.

  • You must have an Apple ID. It need not have a credit card number associated with it.
  • You must have the following Apple hardware: iPhone 4 or later, iPad 2 or later (iPad 1 has no FaceTime camera), iPad mini, iPod touch (4G or later), or a Mac (with FaceTime camera) with OS X 10.6.6 (Snow Leopard) or later.
  • On a Mac, you need the FaceTime app, available from the Mac App Store.
  • You must have FaceTime running on a Mac or have FaceTime enabled with your iOS device. ou can enable FaceTime by going to Settings -> FaceTime.
  • You must have a Wi-Fi connection. With an iPhone 4 or later or Cellular iPad, you can use cellular data or Wi-Fi.
  • You must have specified an email address used as an identifier for FaceTime calls. On an iPhone, it can be the cellular phone number or an email address or both. That email address need not be active in your email app, but it must be a valid address because Apple's FaceTime server will check it.

Apple's FaceTime Knowledge Base article, #HT4319 has good information. Note: there is no separate FaceTime app on an iPhone, as of iOS 6. Instead, you'll use the iOS Contacts or Phone app, as explained in the TMO article: "Where is the FaceTime App on the iPhone?"

2. iOS Setup In order to receive a FaceTime call, on, say, an iPad, you must first turn FaceTime on, login with your Apple ID, and then specify an email address to be used as a means to contact your device. After you've logged in, your Apple ID will display in a button (see below). The email address does not have to be the same as your Apple ID's email address, but it can be. All this is accomplished in iOS Settings -> FaceTime.

iOS (iPad): Settings -> FaceTime

If you're using an iPhone, the cellular number will appear as a candidate FaceTime access point. Note that, at the very least, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint allow you to conduct FaceTime calls over their cellular network. For others, check their policies. You can enable or disable this at the bottom of the Settings -> FaceTime page.

By logging in with your Apple ID and specifying an email address, you are telling Apple's FaceTime servers how to connect with this particular piece of hardware. That's a lot less geeky than specifying a complicated IMEI, ICCID or MAC identification number.

Even though you may use your cell number on an iPhone as the FaceTime address, it's not a bad idea to also use an additional email address in the event there's an issue with the carrier's network. Think of it as a backup.

You don't have to use the same Apple ID on all your devices to login, but if that's convenient, it's recommended - just to avoid trying to keep track of them all. It's the unique email address that tells others how to contact your device.

You can elect to use the same email address for all your devices. It can even be your Apple ID email. For example, if you have an iPad and your spouse has an iPad mini, both will alert you when can incoming FaceTime connection comes in. If you cancel one, both will cancel. However, if you do that, you won't be able to have a FaceTime call between those two devices. Naturally, like a call to your own phone number, you'll get a busy signal. A secondary, unique email address for each device, in that case, is in order.

If you change the email address designated for a FaceTime call, it is advisable to log out and then log back in in Settings -> FaceTime for that to take effect.

3. Mac Setup. If necessary, download the FaceTime App from the Mac App Store. After you launch it, login with your Apple ID.

FaceTime app on Mac: login first with Apple ID.

Then select Preferences from the app's menu to specify how you can be reached on that Mac.  When ready to make a call, use the Contacts icon on the bottom right.

The Mac app's Preferences

4. Making a FaceTime call. On the iPhone, the customary way to initiate a FaceTime call is from the Contacts or Phone app via Contacts icon at the bottom. You can also trigger it from the dialer after a voice call has started, assuming all the conditions are met.

After you start a voice call, you can try to start a FaceTime session.

It's a good idea to create a entry in your Contacts for each person with whom you may want to have a FaceTime session.

Note that in the Contact page is a button called FaceTime on the bottom right. You will need to contact each person and find out what their specified FaceTime address is and then enter it on the Contacts page.

Every iPhone Contact has this button, but
some setup is required. FT Icon will appear after successful call.

When you want to start the FaceTime call, tap the FaceTime button. All the available phone numbers and email addresses for that person will appear. Tap the one you know is a legitimate FaceTime address. If the person on the other end is prepared to receive the call, they can accept, and the session will start. From now on, a FaceTime movie camera icon will appear next to that address or number to alert you that this is a valid FaceTime address.

Addresses that have been used with FaceTime will earn a special icon.

On the Mac and the iPad, you'll use the FaceTime app and your Contacts, displayed within the app. Again, if you've previously established a FaceTime session on that device, the email or phone number will have a FaceTime icon next to it. This is why it's helpful to sync all your Contacts through iCloud. Settings -> iCloud -> Contacts -> ON.

Partial screen shot of iPad Contacts in iPad's FaceTime. Just tap the number.


FaceTime is very easy to use, once you get it set up. But as with any technology, there can be nuances that you need to be aware of to avoid mysterious problems. Hopefully, this how-to will assist with some of those details so that you have a consistent, reliable experience.


FaceTime teaser image credit: Apple