How to: Getting Started with FaceTime

BY Tris Hussey

Published 6 Dec 2012

You’ve seen the Apple commercials where kids FaceTime with their grandparents. Heck I FaceTime with my two-year-old nephew and it’s awesome. Apple makes it seem like FaceTime is just a magical program that just works, but in reality you do need to turn it on and set it up on your devices—and Mac—to make it work.

If you read the iMessage How To post, then you’re more than halfway to using FaceTime. Both systems work off the same account system. So let’s start with turning FaceTime on.

Turning on and Setting up FaceTime

These instructions work for all iOS devices.

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Step 1: Turn FaceTime on

Go to Settings -> FaceTime and turn FaceTime on (if it isn’t already)

Step 2: Login with your Apple ID

If you weren’t prompted when you turned FaceTime on, then log in.

Step 3: Pick the email addresses to use

If you’ve already set up iMessage, you’ll be offered the email addresses you have already connected to iMessage to use with FaceTime as well.

You should be all set and read to use FaceTime!

Like iMessage, it makes the most sense to start with your iPhone first, then go to other devices to configure FaceTime. Like iMessage, if you start with your iPhone, then your phone number will be connected with other devices.

For Macs running Mountain Lion, launch the FaceTime app, turn FaceTime on, log in with your Apple ID, and repeat the above steps.

Using FaceTime

Using FaceTime is pretty easy, just like the Apple commercials suggest. The trick, if there is one, is to make sure you’re calling your contact with the right address.

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Launching and calling

First question isn’t who you are calling, but what are you calling from! On iPads, Macs, and iPod touches Facetime is a separate app, but on iPhones it’s part and parcel of Phone and Messages. So if you’re on your iPhone and want to call, you either start with Phone or Contacts, find the person you want to call and tap the FaceTime button on their contact card. If you’ve started a Messages chat with someone on any device, then you can scroll to the top of the chat and tap FaceTime (on your Mac it’s a little video camera icon).

This button should connect you up, but if it doesn’t here’s what you need to do:

  • Try their phone number if you’re calling an iPhone
  • Try their email address if calling an iPad or iPod touch (technically an email should work for an iPhone if they followed our steps for setting up FaceTime with email addresses).

For iPads and iPod touches,or Macs you launch either the FaceTime app  and pick your contact to call or go through Contacts, find your contact and tap FaceTime.

Receiving calls

Once you have FaceTime set up, when someone calls you it will ring on all the devices where you have it set up. So, yes, if you have your phone number connected to FaceTime as well as email addresses on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac…it will ring in all three places at once. No doubt that will get your attention! The best thing is that you can answer on any of the devices! So if you see the call and need to be more mobile you can answer on your iPhone, at your desk your Mac. Hanging out at your coffee place, maybe your iPad.

Just tap to accept the call and you’re all set!

It doesn’t work!

When I’ve had issues with FaceTime (and I know the contact is a good one), the most likely culprit is your Internet connection. On slow or intermittent connections FaceTime gets, well, grumpy and doesn’t want to work. Try your usual things for getting a better connection.

Most home routers I’ve run into don’t have issues with FaceTime, but if you’re using a coffee shop, hotel, or other kind of shared WiFi they might have blocked FaceTime.

For issues with getting the right email address, the answer is always to find out the email they use for iTunes (aka their Apple ID), then you might point them over here to make sure iMessage and FaceTime are turned on and set up correctly (and by “set up” I mean turned on, signed in with their Apple ID, and email addresses associated with it).

Tips for Better FaceTime Calls

Since FaceTime is pretty easy to use, you’d think I wouldn’t have many tips to pass along, oh but I do!

  1. Good light makes for better calls. The FaceTime camera (that’s what Apple calls the camera on the front of a device) has been getting better and better (especially in the iPhone 5, iPad mini, and iPad 4), but it still needs good light for things to look decent. And try not to have bright light behind you that will make it really hard for the camera to get the exposure right.
  2. Quiet on the set. A noisy coffee shop, party, office, wherever isn’t a great place for a FaceTime call. Not only is it is a tad rude to do in public, it might be hard to hear or be heard.
  3. Try EarPods. If you have a pair of the fancy schmancy EarPods (or just the regular ear buds) the combination of a mic closer to your mouth and sound straight to your ears will help. No, not great for all chats, but great for some.
  4. Sit still darn it! Remember you’re sending audio and video wirelessly over the Internet. To make this happen FaceTime has to compress the signal. Audio compression is pretty easy, but video is a horse of a different color. For video most apps try to save bandwidth by only sending the differences between frames. If you sit still, fewer differences between frames and better overall quality. If you move around a lot, more differences, more data to send, lower quality. Try it if you don’t believe me. FaceTime with someone and wave your arms and move a lot then have the other person do it. You’ll see right away how quickly the quality degrades.
  5. Make a stand. No, really, make a stand…or use one for your device. It really helps with the top above if you can keep your device still too! The smart covers all do great as stands for FaceTime, for iPhones there are cases with kick stands, but I like this baby from Joby. It also works with for the iPad mini (as a little stand, not for tripod stuff).

That’s it for FaceTime. I love using FaceTime with family far away (since all of my family is far away), it lets me see the people I love right on my iPad.