Apple: Honor Steve Jobs and make FaceTime open source

Commentary: We haven't forgotten.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read
Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

I hate Skype. And though I've had better luck with Google Hangouts, I mostly hate it too. In 2018, it's still a big freaking chore to meet people face-to-face over the internet, particularly for business meetings -- even if your company uses something fancier like BlueJeans or WebEx or what have you.

Which is why I was excited to hear that Apple's FaceTime will soon support 32 people at once. FaceTime is easy. FaceTime mostly just works. 

But I was only excited for three seconds. That's how long it took me to remember that I own a Windows laptop and an Android phone, not an iPhone or MacBook. What's the point of holding video calls with FaceTime, if people who don't own Apple products can't join them? 

Wouldn't it be great if they could, though? Wouldn't it be wonderful if, say, Apple FaceTime were, say, an open industry standard that Apple's competitors could use too?

But here's the thing: Steve Jobs himself promised FaceTime would be an open standard when he introduced it on June 7, 2010, almost exactly eight years ago.

CNET was there. We live-blogged it. But you don't have to take our word: There's video proof. You can watch Steve Jobs say it right here, around 1 hour and 36 minutes into his WWDC 2010 keynote address.

Here's the full quote:

"Now, FaceTime is based on a lot of open standards -- H.264 video, AAC audio, and a bunch of alphabet soup acronyms -- and we're going to take it all the way. We're going to the standards bodies starting tomorrow, and we're going to make FaceTime an open industry standard."

But it didn't happen. And since there are good reasons for Apple to keep it that way, it probably never will. 

Like iMessage, FaceTime is one of those services you miss when you switch away from Apple products, making it a great reason to keep buying them. (You might have heard the phrase "lock-in" thrown around from time to time.)

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There's also an ongoing lawsuit to consider -- as Ars Technica documented in 2013, Apple was forced to majorly change how FaceTime works to avoid infringing on the patents of a company called VirnetX. Instead of letting phones communicate directly with each other, Apple added "relay servers" to help the phones connect. 

Presumably, someone would have to pay for those servers, and/or figure out a way for them to talk to Google or Microsoft or other third-party servers if FaceTime were going to be truly open. 

But that doesn't make a broken promise less frustrating. Particularly now that Apple could potentially fix annoying business video calls as well. A Skype-killing video chat service that worked on Mac, iOS *and* Windows, Android and the open web? That's something I bet companies would be happy to pay for, too.

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

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