One of the coolest features Apple introduced with the iPhone 4 and the 4th generation iPod Touch was the ability to have video conferencing. Ever since it was released, my parents and I chat several times a week over FaceTime, and they love being able to see their grandson too. A moderately fast Wi-Fi connection and the front facing camera made this a reality for millions of iPhone 4 users everywhere. This article will go into detail on how to configure FaceTime and control where your FaceTime calls end up if you have more than one iOS device.

FaceTime for iPhone to iPhone Communication

If you have an iPhone 4, and wish to speak with a friend or family member who also has an iPhone 4, things are relatively simple:

1. You and your calling party will need to go to Settings -> Phone, and ensure that you’ve enabled FaceTime.

2. You will both need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network before dialing each other.
3. You’ll need to dial their iPhone’s native phone number (i.e. this won’t work with a forwarding service or Google Voice).

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there are two ways to initiate a call with them:

1. Begin with a plain old phone call then convert to a FaceTime session: This is probably the easiest way, and  might be considered the more polite route to go. Call the other person’s phone number directly and ask them if they wish to convert the call to a FaceTime chat. If they agree, press the FaceTime button on the screen, and the other person will be asked if they wish to accept an incoming FaceTime chat request. A few seconds of connecting go by, and then the calls become a mobile video conference.

Once you initiate a call with another FaceTime user this way, the icon next to their number also permanently adds a FaceTime icon, giving you a visual queue that you’ve used that number to FaceTime with them previously.

2. Call direct to FaceTime: Load your contact’s name in the Phone or Contacts app, and choose it. Scroll to the bottom of the entry, and press the FaceTime button. Once you press this button, you’ll have an opportunity to choose the best contact number for the FaceTime session. You’ll want to choose the entry that is their iPhone.

 

If you’ve ever talked with them in the past using FaceTime, you should also see a FaceTime video camera icon show up on the right side of the button. This makes it easier to identify in the future. One other tip: if you’ve talked with them before via FaceTime, look in your recent calls. If you see their contact info with the FaceTime video camera icon, you can call them even more quickly with a single tap.

Setting up FaceTime on your Mac
FaceTime desktop software is Mac only and may not be free. It may cost you $0.99 from the Mac App Store if it isn’t already bundled with your OS. Since your Mac doesn’t have an actual phone number you’ll use your email address instead. The easiest way to set this up is to go into the FaceTime preferences, log in to your iTunes account, and use the same email address associated with your iTunes account for your FaceTime ID.

If this is not possible (they can be different), pick an email address that you are comfortable sharing with your friends for FaceTime. If you choose an email address that is different from the iTunes App Store email, you’ll receive a verification email with a link to activate it. FaceTime will have to be running for you to be able to accept FaceTime calls. If you are using multiple email addresses, the final step is to choose a caller ID. This will be the email address the opposite calling party will see as your FaceTime caller ID. You’ll want to choose this carefully so when they call you back, you have complete control over which device they choose. To initiate a call, choose the correct contact from the list of your contacts showing up on the right side of the screen. You’ll know your camera is on when you see your image and a tiny green LED above the monitor.

Setting up FaceTime on your iPad 2
Enter the Settings app to enable FaceTime, then from the settings panel, login to iTunes and choose one or more emails to associate the account with. Be sure to set the caller ID, which will allow the other party to see the call coming from the email address you designate. Like the desktop version, FaceTime is integrated with Apple’s Address Book software. To call someone, select the contact on the right side of the screen.

You can leave FaceTime running in the background all the time with your iPad 2, however you’ll only be able to make or receive FaceTime calls while connected to a Wi-Fi network.

FaceTime for iPhone to iPad 2 or Mac desktop communication


If you want to use your iPhone to FaceTime a user that has an iPad 2 or a Mac, this process changes slightly. You’ll ask the other party for their FaceTime email address. You can associate several email addresses with your FaceTime account, but you’ll want to choose a single one to be your caller ID. You can have the computer and the iPad 2 both use the same caller ID if you wish, but note when your partner calls you back, both the iPad 2 and the Mac will ring at the same time.

FaceTime for Mac desktop or iPad 2 to iPhone communication


If you’re on your iPad 2 or computer, and want to FaceTime your friend’s phone, you’ll choose the phone number of the other party’s iPhone. If they have FaceTime enabled in their Phone preferences and are connected to a Wi-Fi network, their phone will start to ring. Note you can only enter phone numbers of other iPhone 4 users here (i.e it won’t create an audio call for non-iPhone 4 users from your Mac).

FaceTime for an iPad 2 or Mac to an iPad 2 or Mac

This solution doesn’t require a cell phone plan, and you won’t actually be calling a phone number. The two devices need to be FaceTime enabled and connected to a Wi-Fi network. Choose the email address associated with the other party’s account, and it will initiate a FaceTime chat with them if their device is enabled and connected to a Wi-Fi network. If you’ve talked with them previously on FaceTime, the little FaceTime camera logo on the right side of the button will be your friendly reminder that you’re selecting the correct email address.

What if I have both an iPad 2 and a Mac with FaceTime?
If you are lucky enough to have both a Mac and an iPad 2, you have a choice to make. If you want to keep things simple and have your computer and iPad 2 ring at the same time, choose the same email address for both devices. If you’d like a little more control over where your friends or family reach you on FaceTime, use one email address for the iPad, and another for the Mac. In my research for this article, I was able to use my @appadvice address, and add a +ipad and +macbook to the email address. For example, the following 2 addresses were ones I setup for testing as I put together this post:

dave+ipad@domain.com -> Goes to my iPad for a FaceTime chat
dave+macbook@domain.com -> Goes to my MacBook for a FaceTime chat

In the iPhone Contacts app, you can even customize the labels to be iPad or Mac instead of work and home. Perhaps Apple will provide a better way to manage these contact options in future versions of iOS and OS X.

Final Thoughts

Apple hid most of the FaceTime complexities inside the iPhone 4′s native Phone app (and we liked it that way). Until Apple has a better native solution for controlling where FaceTime requests end up, I hope these guidelines for managing your FaceTime devices help. The top of my wish-list would include Google Voice integration so I wouldn’t have to expose my native iPhone 4 number to everyone. It would also be nice to have a unified app or portal that controls all of these options in a single place.

What have you done to keep this under control? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!