When Apple announced new features for iOS 12 at WWDC this year, one of the highlights of their presentation was Group FaceTime calls. Group FaceTime, as demonstrated by Apple, allows up to 32 people to participate in a FaceTime call. However, those who were expecting to get the feature with the initial release of iOS 12 later in the fall are in for disappointment. According to Apple, Group FaceTime will not be rolling out when iOS 12 becomes publicly available to all. Currently, iOS 12 is in beta testing and the software is expected to rollout to all compatible Apple devices sometime in September.
Apple’s beta release notes say - “Group FaceTime has been removed from the initial release of iOS 12 and will ship in a future software update later this fall.”
Looks like Apple wants to spend some more time improving upon Group FaceTime. Apple’s demonstration of the feature at WWDC showed how participants of a Group FaceTime call are spread over the phone’s screen in tiny boxes. Users can be a part of the conversation via video or audio from an iPhone, iPad or a Mac. There’s also an option to participate via an Apple Watch through FaceTime Audio.
Group FaceTime Calls was a much needed addition to the otherwise aging FaceTime platform. It's even more important for Apple to rollout Group FaceTime right now because most other internet calling services are increasingly adopting group calling in one form or the other. Facebook-owned WhatsApp also recently introduced group calling on its messaging platform, so did Instagram.
The interface for Group FaceTime is questionable though, and even if the demo seemed pretty stable on-stage, we can’t say how the application will perform in real-world usage. For starters, Apple users will be able to club as many as 32 users in one Group FaceTime call. The main participants of the call will get their own windows on the top half of the screen, while all other participants will be shown in a scroll at the bottom of the screen. A feature that caught our eye was that when a participant says something, their window animates out to become more prominent, indicating that the person is speaking. What happens when 3-4 people speak at the same time? Will the participant windows keep popping in and out? If yes, getting on a Group FaceTime call could be difficult on the ears as well as the eyes. As far as participation is concerned, if a bunch of users are already having a group conversation in the Messages app, they will automatically see an option to start a Group FaceTime call. Participants can be added at any time, join later if the conversation is still active.