New FaceTime Features: Links, Grids, and Web App

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We recently explored FaceTime’s flashiest new features (see “How to Use FaceTime and SharePlay Screen Sharing,” November 8, 2021). Now is the time to take a look at some handy new features that make FaceTime a lot more useful.

FaceTime Links

Previously, FaceTime worked like a traditional phone call, which was intuitive but made FaceTime calls difficult to schedule and manage. After Zoom exploded in popularity in the early days of the pandemic, it became apparent that the ability to link to an upcoming video conference was a must. It took Apple long enough, but the company eventually copied this feature. The benefits of FaceTime links include:

  • You can share a link through a mailing list or post it to a shared location, such as a web discussion forum, which makes it easy to invite an arbitrary group of people.
  • If you are banned from a call for any reason, you can easily join it by following the link again.
  • The link makes it easy for people to get in and out of a call as needed, according to their schedule or if they are switching between devices.

Links may be the best new feature in FaceTime, as they make it so much easier to schedule calls and swap devices. You no longer need to call back and hope it works; you just use a link to return to the call.

Create FaceTime Links in FaceTime

The Create Link button is impossible to miss in the FaceTime app in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey – it’s right there on the main screen. Tap it in iOS or iPadOS to bring up a share sheet, from which you can share or copy the link. Click on it in macOS to bring up a menu with similar options.

In iOS and iPadOS, you can name the link when you create it; this does not seem possible in Monterey. In iOS and iPadOS, tap Add Name at the top of the share sheet to give the call a unique name.

Whenever you share or copy that link, the link is saved in FaceTime and appears under Upcoming on the main screen or sidebar, depending on the platform. Tap the call to join or click or tap the “i” button to see options for sharing or removing the link.

A FaceTime link in FaceTime

What recipients see depends on their platform. If you share the FaceTime link through iMessage with someone running iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or Monterey, it will show to them in the Messages conversation and appear under Upcoming in FaceTime. Either way, they’ll see a Join button that they can tap or click to join the call.

If you share the FaceTime link with someone on an older Apple operating system or a non-Apple operating system, it will appear as a normal web link. When they click or tap on the link, FaceTime opens in a supported web browser, which we’ll discuss below.

As with Zoom and other platforms, when you follow a FaceTime link, you’re first taken to a preview window that gives you the option to change your camera and microphone settings. When you are ready to join the call, press the Join button. Once you do this, the person making the call must approve your membership request.

Prompt to approve other people who join the FaceTime call

Create FaceTime Links in Calendar

You can also create FaceTime links in the Calendar app. While creating an event, tap the second field at the bottom, labeled Location or Video call (bottom left). Tap FaceTime (below center). Tap Add when you’re done setting up the calendar event. The process is essentially the same in the Calendar app in Monterey. When you open the event on a compatible operating system, you’ll see a Join button (bottom right). On other operating systems, you’ll see a link that will open a web instance of FaceTime.

Embed a FaceTime link in a calendar event

Once the link is created, you can join it at any time, regardless of when the meeting is scheduled. If you are the recipient of the link, you can also register at any time, but nothing will happen unless the sender is already on the call to let you in.

Putting FaceTime links in calendar events is a good way to make sure you can join from any device you use. If you are working with a shared calendar, it also ensures that anyone else with access to that calendar can easily join the call.

Microphone modes

IPhone or iPad users with an A12 Bionic or later (including the M1 chip) have access to a few new microphone modes powered by machine learning that change your outgoing sound:

  • Voice isolation: Focus on your voice and try to block out outside sounds, such as children’s cries, dog barks, and running lawn mowers. This is ideal for most FaceTime calls.
  • Broad spectrum: Brings all sounds to your call. It is intended for things like remote music lessons, where all ambient sound is important.

Of course, there is the standard microphone mode, which does not apply any automatic learning to the audio.

To switch between these modes in iOS and iPadOS, open Control Center, which should have a Mic Mode button at the top. Tap it to choose a mode.

Choose a microphone mode in iPhone FaceTime

The interface for switching between mic modes works exactly the same in Monterey’s Control Center, but they’re only available if you’re using an M1-based Mac.

FaceTime Effects in Monterey

Video effects

Notice that Video Effects button in the screenshots above? Camera app portrait mode is now available in FaceTime (and we’re wondering what other effects might appear in the future). Just like in Camera, Portrait mode applies a bokeh effect, keeping your face in focus while blurring the background. It’s a far cry from Zoom’s customizable, immersive backgrounds, but it helps blur the clutter behind you. As with micro modes, Portrait mode requires an A12 Bionic, M1 or higher on an iPhone or iPad, or an M1 based Mac.

In iOS and iPadOS, there are two ways to turn on Portrait mode:

  • Open Control Center, tap Video Effects (bottom left) and tap Portrait (below center).
  • Tap the screen to show FaceTime controls, then tap the Portrait mode button at the bottom (bottom right).
Portrait mode in FaceTime
Portrait mode can scramble the garbage in your office.

In Monterey, the same two approaches work. You can enable Portrait mode in Control Center by clicking Video Effects, or you can click a small Portrait mode button on your thumbnail in the lower right corner.

Portrait mode button in FaceTime

Grid view

Are you tired of video windows moving around the screen when you are in a group FaceTime call? Why can’t FaceTime just display these windows in a grid like any other video conferencing app? Finally, this is possible if there are four or more video participants on the call. Once you turn it on for one call, it stays on for subsequent calls unless you turn it off.

After there are four or more participants on a call, a Grid button appears in FaceTime controls. In macOS, there is a Grid button always visible in the upper right corner.

Grid view in FaceTime

FaceTime on the web

In what may be its most important new feature, FaceTime is finally working on all platforms. If someone on an older Apple operating system or a non-Apple operating system clicks on a FaceTime link, that will take them to a FaceTime web application. Apple says it works in Google Chrome on Android or Windows, but I’ve found it works in Chrome Courageous. It doesn’t work in Firefox.

Apple didn’t say anything about Linux support, but we found it to work just fine on my 2011 Lenovo ThinkPad T420. This is despite ten years old hardware and an outdated version of Brave, the most impressive!

FaceTime running on Ubuntu Linux
Agen (center) was impressed that my old ThinkPad could handle FaceTime.

FaceTime on the web works much like a Mac, iPhone, or iPad. You don’t get the more sophisticated features like mic modes or portrait mode, but grid view is an option if there are four or more participants. You can click the ellipsis button in FaceTime controls to change camera and microphone settings.

Unsurprisingly, FaceTime’s web app has some limitations:

  • You cannot use the web app to initiate FaceTime calls, join only those created on an Apple device.
  • If you tap the chat bubble button in the FaceTime app to enter a Messages conversation with other call participants, those using the web client won’t be included.

In short, Apple is happy to allow non-Apple users to join calls created by Apple customers, but it is not interested in providing free services to people who have not purchased Apple devices.

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